Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

Committee Roles and Responsibilities on Your Nonprofit Board

Nonprofit Committee Roles and Responsibilities | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

The governance structure of your nonprofit board is likely to be made up of committees. Each committee focuses on a key area of activity, which divides your board's work into more manageable tasks. In general, nonprofit boards are opting for fewer committees than they did in the past.

It is possible that your board has no committees at all. If your board has no committees, individual members of your board will work directly with staff on particular issues. One-on-one work and singular board participation makes individuals accountable for results, which board members often perceive as a good thing.

Committee Work

If your board has committees, these committees will handle most of your board's work. These smaller, focused workgroups can often handle issues more efficiently than a whole board. A committee's smaller size also fosters camaraderie among participants, especially if a board is large. Your committees will review options and regularly present their findings and recommendations to the board as a whole.

Ideally, your committee members will have expertise in their area of focus or have interest in the subject. Committees can broaden their expertise by including individuals who are not board members but have particular knowledge and dedication to your organization's mission.

Common Committees

Your nonprofit board might include these common board committees:

  • Executive. If your board is large, it may have an executive committee of officers and committee chairs. The executive committee typically meets more frequently than the board as a whole. Executive committees can sometimes take over the decision-making process of the entire board, which may alienate the other board members.
  • Fundraising. The fundraising committee oversees and directs fundraising activity. This committee isn't solely responsible for raising money, but it leads the board's fundraising effort. The committee works with staff to establish a fundraising plan. This plan may include annual events, auctions, end-of-the-year requests, and other activities. The fundraising committee works with staff on their fundraising efforts and sometimes takes the lead in specific activities. The committee also ensures the proper acknowledgement of donors and keeps donor solicitation expenses in line with profits.
  • Finance. The finance committee, sometimes called the budget committee, reviews an organization's staff-prepared budget. The committee also works with staff to produce accurate financial reports. This committee reviews and reports any budgetary concerns or opportunities, like a new lucrative partnership. This committee establishes reserve funds, lines of credit, and short- and long-term investments. If your board does not have a separate audit committee, the finance committee helps select an auditor and works with this person to conduct regular audits.
  • Board Development. The board development committee, sometimes called the nominating committee, finds new board members and directs board enrichment activities. This committee establishes board composition priorities, meets with potential board members to explain the work of the organization, and identifies strengths and weaknesses in board candidates. Board development committee members often keep personal files on their perspectives. The responsibilities of this committee are sometimes covered by a governance committee.
  • Programs. Some boards consider program oversight to be the work of the entire board, but your organization may have a dedicated program committee. A program committee, evaluates existing programs, oversees program expansion or development, and facilitates board conversations about its programs.

Additional Committees

Your nonprofit board may also have any of these additional committees:

  • Audit. The audit committee selects and works with the auditor on the organization's annual audit. Sometimes this work is a subset of the finance committee. The audit is generally an organization's only outside review, making it an extremely important governance tool.
  • Personnel. Some boards establish personnel committees to draft personnel policies, job descriptions, and salary structures. This committee also reviews salary increases and benefits packages. The personnel committee may hear staff grievances about the executive director, but generally only when formal complaints have been lodged.
  • Public Policy and Advocacy. Organizations with a public policy mission or with a mission that may extend into public policy (such as advocacy) often have a public policy committee. If your organization is just beginning an advocacy program, you may choose to create an advocacy committee over a public policy committee because it is broader in scope. An advocacy committee may also capture more interest among your members and your board. The board of the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation includes an Issues and Research Committee that acts much like an advocacy committee. Public policy or advocacy committee members pay attention to local news and local real estate developments that may involve preservation challenges. With any committee focused on advocacy issues, committee members work with staff to establish preliminary positions and strategies. Advocacy committees then advance potential advocacy actions to the full board for consideration.
  • Management Oversight. Statewide groups with geographically distant board members are often less connected with the day-to-day work of their organization's staff. Some boards handle this issue by establishing a management oversight committee that meets every six weeks or so. Committee members generally live close to the organization's office and meet with staff to review how things are going in the office, including personnel issues, financial matters, and other issues that might interest the board. This committee reports its findings at regular board meetings.

Ad Hoc Committees

Your board may form ad hoc committees and task forces to handle issues as needed. These temporary committees can be more attractive to board members who prefer targeted, short-term problem-solving rather than ongoing committee participation. Here are some examples of ad hoc committees:

  • Site Committee. When an organization wants to move to a new location and is considering different spaces or co-location, the board may form a temporary committee to work with staff to find a new home.
  • Special Event Committee. For special or large events, such as annual fundraisers, galas, or auctions, the board may form a committee to help assign necessary tasks.
  • Executive Director Search and Transition Committees. These committees help to search for a new executive director and create a smooth transition between the departing and new directors. They establish a search process and a transition plan with the existing executive director. The committee sometimes presents a selection of candidates to the whole board for consideration. Once the new executive is hired, the transition committee helps the new director succeed as he or she transitions into the role.
  • Strategic Planning Committee. Nonprofit organizations may elect to create a strategic plan every two to five years. A special committee is often formed to shepherd this process.
  • Special Situations. Sometimes an organization facing an issue, either positive or negative, warrants a special task force. This situation might involve bad publicity around a specific action, a dramatic budget shortfall, a time-sensitive investment opportunity, an executive director with a personal problem, or a similarly tough issue that requires concentrated effort for a short amount of time.

Learn More

Find more how-to articles about historic preservation advocacy.

You can learn more about nonprofit operations from the Nonprofit Management Education Center offered by the Center for Community and Economic Development, which is part of the University of Wisconsin Division of Cooperative Extension. This resource includes a library of articles and an Organizational Assessment Tool.