Many nonprofit organizations strive to have healthy board engagement. An active and involved board often means strong fundraising support, mission-connectedness, and productive and meaningful board meetings. Unfortunately, as consultants, we regularly hear that board engagement is not where everyone would like it to be, and often, the solution to better engagement can be found within the role of the executive committee.
So many times we hear officers say “The rest of the board just rubber stamps everything – there is hardly any discussion!” – only to have another conversation with a director who says “It seems like everything is already decided when we get to the board meeting. I don’t feel comfortable asking questions.” Executive committees that meet as often or more frequently than the full board are contributing to this never-ending cycle. This mis-alignment is especially true when the executive committee numbers more than one-third of the total board. The good news is – it’s an easy fix!
A nonprofit board’s executive committee should be charged with only two main responsibilities: 1) Evaluate the CEO and 2) Oversee strategic plan alignment, facilitating necessary strategic conversations within the full board meetings. When the executive committee stays focused on these two tasks, the rest of the board is included in all other discussions, and the executive committee isn’t re-living the same meeting twice each month.
After changing the role of their executive committee last fall, CASA of Kent County Board Chair Heidi Hendricks saw significant change within their board: “The CASA board culture has changed a lot since we eliminated our monthly Executive Committee. Our full board is now engaged, empowered, and valued, which means we can better serve the kids, which is what we all want to do!”
The limited role of the executive committee also supports the CEO in a more productive way. The CEO has an opportunity to keep the board discussions at a strategic level, and they are not required to spend hours putting together similar, but not exactly the same, sets of reports each month. Additionally, executive committee members aren’t repeating conversations each month, and the full board is able to benefit from and participate in the discussion and reasoning behind decisions, making everyone feel more engaged. Occasionally, there is still a need for an executive committee discussion about a specific topic – often one that is of a more urgent or private matter. These additional conversations can certainly be up to the discretion of the CEO and/or Board Chair.
As with any new strategy, you want to be sure that this move is right for your organization. The best next step is to review what the executive committee is accomplishing and engage with staff leadership and the full board to determine if changes should be made. A healthy and engaged board serves the community best!