Elliott is Prizmah's Director of Thought Leadership. Learn more about him here.

Impact Areas

Committee, Structure, and Composition


Photo by Stefany Andrade on Unsplash

Forming committees on a board is more of an art than a science. There are few hard and fast rules to the work, and different boards approach it in different ways. Some boards have numerous, long-standing committees in place, while other boards work without any committees! Overall, boards are encouraged to think, in an ongoing way, about what committees are critical to the work of the board today and to do away with committees that no longer serve a core purpose. Twenty five years ago, the average board had 6.6 committees; today the average is down to 4.5. Even the executive committee, which serves as a cornerstone of many boards, has come into question for its role in usurping the decision-making power of the larger board.

Some boards struggle to effectively engage committees, with only a few people seeming to do the majority of the work of the board. Effective committees with a clearly defined purpose enable the board to distribute responsibilities, engage all board members, and get the work done in between board meetings, thus enabling the board to focus on the critical strategic conversations they need to have at board meetings.

Nonetheless, there are some consistent suggested practices that have emerged as boards go about the work of forming and composing committees.

  • Of all standing committees, governance and finance are generally considered the two most important and least dispensable.
  • If you do have an executive committee, make sure it doesn’t have too much power such that it saps the initiative and personal investment of the other board members.
  • Make sure that the bylaws enable the board to be nimble in forming committees on an ad-hoc basis when needed, to perform functions such as hiring a new head or undertaking a major fundraising campaign.
  • Establish clearly defined responsibilities for committees, and let them know that their advice will be taken seriously but the board has final say.
  • Committee size should be determined to ensure the engagement of all its members.
  • Try to compose a committee of people with diverse and relevant skills, backgrounds, connections.
  • Consider bringing onto committees people who are not members of the larger board, both to tap into their skill sets and as a potential recruitment tool for new board members.
  • Rotating committee assignments can be an effective way to develop the skill sets of board members, especially ones with the potential for board leadership.

Finally, be sure to review the committee structure and assess committees’ effectiveness often to ascertain that their work is important to the school and satisfying to the members.