• Bill Huddleston

    It sounds like one of their first priorities should be creating and expanding their volunteer program, in order to increase the capacity of the organization to perform the tasks associated with their mission, and the activities that help sustain this mission (special events, member events, etc.)

    At a fundamental level, If the only people doing all the work are the board members, does this organization need to exist?

    If yes, the operational committees you refer to should not restricted to just board members, a board member should be the chair. Committee membership (under whatever title makes the most sense, some people who wouldn’t be caught dead on the “XYZ non-profit membership committee” might love being part of the “XYZ Non-profit Ambassadors” program) should not
    be limited to board members only.

    Bill Huddleston, The CFC Coach
    MPA in Non-profit Management

  • Andrea McManus

    Mitch, This is something I have encountered quite often as well and appreciate the various options you have laid out. Just to digress as well on the reasons why I think there is another one that may well be implicit in your three however begs attention. Many nonprofits are started by people who have a deep and abiding passion for the mission. These are also the very same organizations that are unlikely to have staff. Focusing solely on governance issues makes it pretty hard to keep that connection to mission. In fact, I also find that in larger organizations with staff when the board is expected to solely focus on high level policy governance it becomes disconnected with the mission and hence a decline in the passion. This is not to say they should be involved in operations at all but meaningful opportunities to engage in their passion are crucial to maintaining interest.

  • Caroline Oliver

    A very important topic and useful to think about all the alternatives. All however assume that the difference between governance matters and operational matters is clear and it is just a question of sorting out who does which. In my experience one person’s governance matter is another person’s operational matter and you need the board to use a very careful approach to policy creation such as that in Policy Governance for everyone to really know what the difference is in their organization.

  • Mitch Dorger

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I hope the readers take the time to appreciate the great points you have added to the discussion. Best regards.

  • Walt Daniels

    Every situation tends to be somewhat unique. I am a board member, but I am also an almost full time unpaid staff member and a volunteer in several of the program committees, So it all about the hats. One must be very careful about which hat you are wearing at any given moment. and make that very clear in all interactions. Many of the other board members also serve on program committees and are encouraged to do so. It is hard for those not heavily involved to understand what the program is and remain passionate about the organization.

  • karen

    I work with non-profits and have recommended organizations without staff divide their agenda into two – the first part being governance issues – the second part being operational issues. Many volunteers do not have time to attend two separate meetings; they need to be as productive as possible during one meeting. I’ve also recommended that the whole board deal with both governance and operational issues. Dividing into committees just increases the work load and potential for misinterpretation, confusion and delayed actions. That being said – ad hoc undertakings are the best way to go. Short-time and strictly defined actions assigned to one or more people with a clear timeline; once the action is complete the undertaking ends.