Nonprofit board management guide - Establishing the committee (Part 1 of 3)

By Axis Marketing


Management techniques to improve board recruitment and retention from a nonprofit expert - Part 1: Establishing the committee

Nonprofit societies look to their boards of directors for strategy, vision and policy; nonprofits look to their chief executive officers for leadership and oversight of operations. Both are critical to organizational success.

Yet, research shows that disenchanted executive directors perceive their board members as non-supportive, micro-managing, disengaged and/or lacking an understanding of governance vs. operations. Boards of directors have a direct impact on successful retention of executive directors.

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Chief executive officers can’t just sit back and complain about this problem. It is up to them to break that cycle of inefficiency and start a new cycle: one of thoughtful and strategic recruitment, orientation and evaluation. These activities feed each other as a constantly evolving process and, as such, it requires that they undertake all three in order to develop the most successful board of directors.





Does this sound familiar?

Executive Director: “Oh no, I just realized the AGM is only a month away. George is finally rolling off the board, Joanne says she’s not returning and Rhonda resigned halfway through last year. We’ve got to find three more board members!”

Chair of the Nominating Committee: “Well, let’s get started right away. I know someone from my Rotary club. She’s a really nice person, always smiling and full of fun.”

Executive Director: “Sounds good. You talk to her, and I’m going to ask our board chair to talk to her neighbour who’s always wanted to sit on this board. I don’t know him but I’m sure he’s great. Hey, we’re almost there – just one more to go!”

Read also: How Directors and Officers Insurance is the ultimate nonprofit risk management tool

Now, obviously this exchange is hypothetical – and a bit tongue-in-cheek – but it will sound familiar to many executive directors. All too often, directors approach populating the board as a search for a warm body, operating under the mistaken belief that every board seat must be filled. Then they wonder why directors don’t offer the leadership and governance that they and their organizations require.

All too often, directors approach populating the board as a search for a warm body, operating under the mistaken belief that every board seat must be filled.

The bylaws and/or provincial society’s act often indicate both a maximum and a minimum number of directors required. As long as the organization doesn’t drop below that minimum, it can manage with fewer than the maximum number of directors. What matters most are the qualities, skills and expertise each director bring – not the number of directors.


Establish the Committee

It used to be called the nominating committee, but its role in the success of your board is much more encompassing. As such, it is now more commonly referred to as a governance or board development committee. In many ways, this will be one of the most important committees of the board, since the future strengths of the board – and hence the organization – will be a result of its work.

The committee is often led by the past chair of the board as someone who has a strong sense of the current board and what it requires to move the organization forward. The executive director should be involved in a consultative capacity. Committee members should include two or three other board members and may also include non-board members who have a strong understanding of the organization, its challenges and its vision. This may be a previous board member, a community leader or someone who has benefited from the work of the organization.

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This is part one of a three part series on nonprofit board management. To continue to part two, click here. 

About the Author

vivian-smith.jpeg Vivian Smith, CFRE, is known for her commitment to philanthropy and her passion for the fundraising profession, which has led her to become one of the most respected and sought-after advisors to the charitable sector in Canada. Recently, after 17 years managing her own consulting firm, she took on the role of executive director for the Langley Memorial Hospital Foundation. Vivian is active in the Association of Fundraising Professionals as a Master Trainer and a director on its international board. She is also a director on the board for the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce and a frequent presenter at conferences and educational sessions throughout North America.

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