Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Are you making your volunteer board work too hard?

This week’s blog is a salute to the superstar volunteers of the board that serve as committee members or members of a special task force.

The real work of the board is done through committees and/or through special task forces. Committees and task forces are made up of talented people that collect, analyze, and study data and information on issues and opportunities and then report their findings along with their recommendations to the board for a specific action. This process could be quite detailed and rather daunting and time consuming. But, without committees and task forces board meetings would take many hours and volunteers would be severely overworked. The truth of the matter is that every board meeting needs to be carefully conducted to where every minute is spent on the approval of actions that advance the mission of the organization and if committee work had to be done in the board room no action would ever be taken!

Therefore, do your board a favor and help them govern better by empowering committees and task forces to perform all of the legwork required for a board to be truly effective. Your board meetings will be more productive because more decisions will be made and less time will be spent sitting at the board table because the committees and task forces will have done the homework and provided the board with all of the necessary information to make the right decisions.

So, how do you get started? First, it is important to know the difference between a committee and a task force. So, here they are:

• Committees, sometimes called standing committees, are a permanent part of the board structure and generally are stipulated and formed through the authority of the agency’s bylaws (i.e. Executive Committee, Budget & Finance Committee, etc.).

• A task force is usually temporary and is only formed on an as-needed basis often to research a particular issue for later recommendation and possible debate by the board. This allows greater flexibility in the work that the board must do to govern.

Just like full board meetings, committees and task force groups work best if the chair or facilitator is experienced. There are no legal requirements to determine how a committee or task force should function so the chair will often decide how formal these meetings need to be. Obviously the chair should be well trained and experienced enough to ensure that there is enough involvement by all members so that they can produce positive results. In addition, these meetings don’t necessarily require that any formal minutes be taken but at the very least someone should make note of the agenda topics and important group decisions made along the way.

The main goal and objective of a committee or task force is to research, analyze, and study a topic or issue with the intent to make a full recommendation to the board of directors. This process should be taken seriously and the committee or task force should be given adequate time to come to a conclusion. This may require the use of professionals or other organizations specially trained to help. Once complete, the committee or task force will provide the board, normally through a written or oral report, enough relevant information to make an intelligent decision and to take action that will bind the agency. The board must, therefore, trust that the committee or task force has studied all of the necessary details and their report is a comprehensive account of the results.

So, to all of you volunteer committee and task force members out there… Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication to the mission of the nonprofit agency you so faithfully serve. It is your hard work and due diligence that allows the agency, through its board of directors to make the necessary decisions that help them to govern so well.

Are you using your committees and task forces? Or, are you overworking your board? Please share with me your experience with committee and task force work and how you use them to advance your mission?

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