Nonprofit board committees have their positives and not-so-positives. On the positive side, board committees and task forces (shorter term) can be very effective and efficient sources of board "homework" analyzing and sorting out all of the data and issues helpful for a board to consider when decision-making time comes. Finance committees can be very helpful in analyzing the fiscal "facts" of a nonprofit and ensuring that they are complete, accurate, and timely for board consumption enabling an often not-so-finance literate board to fulfill one of its fiduciary duties. Strategic planning committees can be really helpful in completing the prep work that again can guide the board through the many aspects involved in mapping an organization's future. And, a goverance committee can help a board keep current in filling its seats, keeping bylaws that reflect actual behavior, and support the board with all its developmental needs. Board committees may also be effective "testing" grounds for introducing prospective board members to the board and developing these indiviuals as prospective members.
As I was reminded more recently however, committees might find ways to not to be at least perceived as helpful appendages of a nonprofit. One experience in particular reminds me that committees could get to a place where their mind is distinctly different from that of the board. In one instance, the committee actually had radically differing opinions than the full board's. Committee members believed that the board was "behind the times" and while understanding its mandate to do a specific prep-work task, the belief by committee members was that it was to develop proposals it knew the board would not like as a step toward driving the board on the "correct" path. There of course is some merit to a committee's providing "leading" or "pushing" guidance as such support may bring the board in the end to a stronger place. But we also recognize that change can be hard and that a committee's failure to do what it has been asked does not ensure that a board will have its needs met.
Solutions? A nonprofit board must be clear about its requests. A committee must understand that it is an arm of the board, not the board and compliance actually matters. A committee could consider giving the board what it wants AND provide alternatives that show why the committee's offering does indeed answer the board's needs. A board must be prepared to have healthy debate and be willing also to end a committee's assignment and even the committee if it, the board, does not believe that the committee is still acting in the board's best interest.
This subject should remind us that board life is both transactional and relational. Process matters as much as outcome.