How to Manage Board Committee Overload
It takes a village to run a nonprofit; there is no denying that. Each organization needs people it can count on to come together for a specific purpose and help contribute to the organization’s success, whether by joining the board, the staff or a committee.
However, as a board or staff member right now, it may seem like you are attending virtual committee meeting after virtual committee meeting, trying to ensure everything is still running smoothly. While board engagement is important, and members of the organization should check in on each other and get things done remotely, when do lots of committee meetings turn into just too many committees?
Committees are great ways to involve enthusiastic supporters in an organization and benefit from their areas of expertise or interest. That said, these operations must be done carefully to help keep nonprofits running smoothly. If you are at a point where you think your organization has too many committees, ask yourself:
- What committees are required in our bylaws?
- How many committees do we have?
- Do board members serve on multiple committees?
- Are any committees struggling with their work?
- Do committees’ responsibilities and functions overlap?
Committee overload is a surefire way to drive away volunteers and burn out staff and board members. Answering these questions helps you examine your committee line-up and determine whether or not you need them all.
Committees Outlined in the Bylaws
Bylaws are the foundation of an organization. The bylaws lay out the nonprofit’s operational rules, including the committees of the board. Over time, bylaws become outdated and reflect the organization’s past instead of the future, but they can be updated to account for changing times and needs. That includes the committee list.
Boards can and should reevaluate committees, dropping non-critical ones, updating them or merging functions into new ones. For example, a nominating committee is useful when it comes to recruiting and electing new board members and officers, but those tasks could be added to the governance committee.
How Many Are Too Many?
A good way to determine if you have too many committees is by asking, “Do board members serve on multiple committees?” If the answer is yes, it might be time to reconsider your committee count. Most organizations have between 12 to 16 board members, which makes four committees a safe target. More than that might wear board members thin and decrease their overall board engagement.
It is important to consider how much of a board member’s time committee commitments should use. If a member doesn’t feel their committee work is a good use of their time and effort, it can result in burnout or even them dropping the organization altogether.
Needed Committees vs Wanted Committees
Obviously, every committee has a function that helps the organization run smoothly and grow, but now is a good time to determine what committees are crucial to the organization. Think about transforming additional committees into task forces or subcommittees, allowing them to disband once the task is complete. Forming these can help fill operational gaps yet still prevent meetings from piling up.
A nonprofit’s structure and efficiency are incredibly important, but it is also essential to consistently reevaluate the needs of the organization to make sure operations are still effective. Every two years, review bylaws and have a discussion on what committees are truly needed or how your organization can restructure. Having these discussions can ensure your organization is thriving and will keep members eager to help.
Jeb Banner is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a nonprofit board management software provider. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Ind.
Boardable is an online board management portal that centralizes communication, document storage, meeting planning and everything else that goes into running a board of directors.