The by-laws of most nonprofits include provisions for an executive committee, but not all boards make regular use of them. For smaller boards that meet regularly, there may be no need for an executive committee; for large boards or those that meet less often, they are a way to help the organization run more smoothly.
Executive committees usually include the board officers – the president, the vice-president, treasurer, and secretary; occasionally other members, such as the chairs of important committees, are included.
The idea of the executive committee is to allow the board to move quickly on urgent matters and to supervise the executive director. For some boards, especially ones that don’t meet often, it handles the day-to-day management of the organization. Some tasks executive committees can handle, if approved by the board:
- Oversee the performance of the executive director and make recommendations to the board on reasonable compensation
- Handle routine business that then goes to the board on a consent agenda
- Set the agenda for board meetings
- Track progress on strategic plans
- Review annual conflict of interest forms
- Nominate candidates to join the board
- Review board committee descriptions and staff job descriptions at least every two years and suggest changes
In spite of the potential usefulness of executive committees, they do have challenges:
One of the most common problems is when real issues start being discussed and decisions made at the Executive Committee meetings. Instead of framing the issues for discussion by the whole Board (or delegating to the appropriate committee), the Executive Committee presents their conclusions to the Board and asks for approval (or even worse doesn’t advise the Board). After a few rounds of this, the other Board members feel left out and realize they are no longer able to contribute insight or leadership.
The decision on whether to use the executive committee, and how, will depend on the structure of each nonprofit and its board. Either way, it is a good idea to review the decision every few years.