At some time in the development of most Non-Profit businesses, the question of whether they need a good Executive Committee arises. Usually this is actually the result of one of the following situations:
1) Board members have seen Executive Committees on other boards so they form one because “that’s the way it can done”.
2) The founding or dominant members of the board get frustrated with having the whole plank in on every discussion and form the Executive Committee so they can make decisions faster – and “get things done”.
3) The Board finds themselves lacking direction and order and wants their function to be better coordinated.
What is Regular?
In many organizations, the Executive Committee is composed of the Board Officers, frequently joined by the chairs of most or even all board committees.
Typically, the particular defined role of the Executive Panel is to:
1) Establish the agendas for Board meetings, in dexterity with the Executive Director/CEO
2) Assess the Exec Director
3) Identify and groom future leaders
4) Create decisions for the Board if a situation arises where it is not practical to pull the entire board together. Specific specialist is granted through the by-laws from the organization.
Where Can It Go Wrong? What is the Downside of Having an Executive Panel?
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One of the most common problems arises whenever real issues are discussed and decisions made at the Executive Panel meetings. Instead of framing the issues to get discussion by the whole Board (or delegating to the appropriate committee), the Executive Committee presents their findings to the Board and asks for authorization (or even worse doesn’t advise the particular Board). After a few rounds of the, the other Board members feel left out and realize they are not able to lead insight or leadership.
How Does the Governance Committee Work with the Professional Committee?
Many organizations have seen the Nominating Committee evolve into a year-round role as the Governance Committee. Formerly, a nominating group would meet a few times in preparation for recruiting new Board members or electing Board officers. As the Governance Panel, they may take on the role of planning Board Retreats, charting Panel meeting topics well in advance, leading new Board member orientation, and creating on-going opportunities for Board members to get better acquainted with each other as well as the organization. An effective Governance Committee may take over many of the roles shouldered with the traditional Executive Committee, making it easier for that group to retain a true management role.
The Executive Committee as THE Decision Making Body
There are organizations that intentionally use the Executive Committee being a Board within a Board. If the complete Board has more than 20-25 users, it often becomes impractical to get everyone together, and sufficiently informed, to make all board decisions. This structure can work if Bylaws are appropriate plus members are informed of the function they will be asked to play – either as a decision maker or more probably as a fund raiser or friend raiser. You see this structure generally in arts and culture companies where board members are linked to the organization through its performances or work, not just their attendance from board meetings.
In spite of many people forecasting the eventual demise of the Executive Committee, recent surveys show that will virtually every effective Board claims to use one.
Bryan Orander is President of Charitable Advisors, based in Indiana, Indiana. Following a 12 year career with a Fortune 50 corporation along with a 6 year stint as a System Director for a large nonprofit, Bryan has been a full-time consultant with nonprofits for almost 10 years.