Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

The Role of the Governance Committee on Your Nonprofit Board

Role of the Governance Committee | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

The governance structure of your nonprofit board is probably made up of board committees, including a committee that governs board development. A type of committee that is gaining popularity among nonprofit organizations is one that focuses on the general health of the board. This committee is often called the governance committee or the board affairs committee.

If your board forms a governance committee, this committee's function will be to provide internal oversight. The governance committee can absorb and expand on the roles of your former nominating committee and board development committee (if you had them).

Serving as the Board's Conscience

Your governance committee will serve as your board's conscience. It should focus on the many reasons a board may not live up to its potential. Members of this group should regularly evaluate these board concerns:

  • How well your board is working (or not)
  • Whether your board is meeting its own goals and expectations
  • What might be holding your group back
  • How your board as a whole could be improved
  • Who is best suited to put big plans into action

Performing Board Recruitment and Staffing Tasks

Your governance committee may perform any or all of the following tasks related to board recruitment and staffing:

  • Develop a list of skills and expertise required for your ideal board
  • Scout for new board members, both within the field and outside conventional sources, who fit your board's needs
  • Maintain files on potential board members
  • Provide new board members with orientation materials and a comprehensive introduction to your organization
  • Write job descriptions for your board members
  • Identify potential officers

Overseeing Board Development

Your governance committee should oversee the following aspects of ongoing board development:

  • Coordinate ongoing educational activities that help board members strengthen their skills and knowledge base
  • Establish board-supported communications, such as committee-generated e-newsletters, press releases, phone calls, and handwritten notes
  • Work with your board chair to evaluate and encourage the participation and organizational support of individual board members
  • Review board performance regularly
  • Remove unproductive or toxic board members
  • Hold a retreat once a year that leads the board to self-assessment and plans for improvement — for your board as a whole and for its individual members
  • Work with your organization's chief staff member to think through board performance issues and ways your board might be improved

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.