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Effective Committees: The Basics
Why Committees Don’t Work
Typically committees don't work well for many of the same reasons boards don't function
effectively: the lack of long-term agendas, reliance on poor or incomplete information,
and the failure to distinguish between board level and operational issues. Therefore
committees can benefit from many of the same approaches that make board meetings
more effective: an overview by the committee chair at the beginning of each meeting, a
strategic focus for discussions, prioritized agendas, annual calendar of committee
meetings and major decisions, consent agendas, and evaluation of committee meetings.
Elements Of Committee Effectiveness
There are at least six elements of committee effectiveness:
Written Committee Description. First, there should be a written description of
what is expected of each committee to guide the chair and members. The
description should summarize the purpose of the committee, its composition and
selection procedure, and the specific duties of the committee. There are several
sample committee descriptions in the Tool Section of this chapter.
An effective committee chair. The next element is an effective chairperson. In
general, the committee chair should a board director. This helps to assure that the
leadership of the committee is "in sync" with that of the board as a whole. In
seeking an effective chair, we're looking for two things: content knowledge and
experience relevant to the work of the committee as well as proven leadership and
people skills that will be essential if the committee is to work effectively. Of the
two, the most important is leadership and people skills. Additional content
knowledge is more easily acquired by a committee chair than the ability to lead
You want a good leader of people and process, someone who feels confident in
guiding committee members to accomplish the task in a timely manner. The role
of committee chair requires extra work, time for communication with staff, a
willingness to resolve conflicts among members, and a commitment to keep the
board chair informed at all times
There are also some personal characteristics of the effective committee chair that
also need to be considered:
Chait, Richard, Holland, Thomas, and Taylor, Barbara, Improving the Performance of Governing Boards,
Oryx Press, 1996.
Andringa, Robert C., and Engstrom, Ted W., Nonprofit Board Answer Book, National Center for
Nonprofit Boards, 1997.
Example Effective Committee Meeting Agenda Template
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