February 2020 – Rick Szilagyi, Principal


  • High-functioning committees are key to achieving a high-functioning board.
  • High-functioning committees don’t exist without great committee chairs.
  • Being a great committee chair requires just a little time, planning, and execution.
  • Once on track, committee meetings may only last a few minutes.


Twenty years of working with small nonprofits has made the Lexian staff firm believers that high-functioning committees are key to a high-functioning board and organization.

Productive committees do the research, discuss potential actions, and make recommendations to the board. Failure to have productive committees results in “committee work” being done during board meetings, which results in long board meetings and unhappy board members. Board meetings should be a place where committee recommendations are reviewed, and decisions are made. Period. Efficient board meetings help ensure happy board members, and an effective board results in a healthy organization.

The person who has the greatest influence over the success of a committee is the committee chairperson. Everyone’s time is limited, and it seems that with every year, everyone’s time limit becomes shorter and shorter. The committee chair is responsible for delivering a well-organized, efficient committee meeting. Once on the right path, the result is shorter, more effective committee meetings that will make every committee member happy.

Scheduling meetings weeks in advance results in better attendance at committee meetings. Once everyone agrees on a set schedule (for example, 10AM of the 3rd Tuesday of the month), a repeating meeting should be placed on the calendar.

Let’s break the work of the committee chair into three parts: planning the next meeting, conducting the meeting, and reporting to the board.

  • Planning:
    • Set the agenda—including a hard stop. A hard stop helps cut down on too-long presentations and shows you respect everyone’s time.
    • Gather all relevant materials to be distributed with the agenda. (The chair will be disappointed if s/he expects that each individual committee member will do this on their own.)
    • Distribute the agenda and additional materials at least several days in advance of the meeting.
    • If the meeting is by conference call, encourage everyone to review the process of joining ahead of time, and plan on clicking/calling into the meeting 10 minutes early. This gives attendees time to resolve any technical issues that may arise, such as the need to select a different microphone/speaker/camera, etc.
    • Text a one-hour reminder to committee members ahead of each meeting. Conference call meetings are more likely to be temporarily forgotten, given that the attendees do not have to physically travel to a meeting location. Also, be ready to text people if they are not present at the start time.
  • Conducting:
    • The chair should review the current status and goals of the meeting, as well as point out the hard stop time.
    • Follow the agenda, stick to the hard stop time. If the chair teaches committee members that meetings of this committee have no definite stop, attendance will wane in the future.
    • Nonprofit boards and committees operate as democratic entities. That is, everyone gets to be heard, and the majority rules. The chair should call on each committee member, to ensure everyone has the opportunity to share their opinion.
    • Given that the chair is charged with hosting efficient meetings and following the democratic dictates, s/he must control, tactfully, contributions made that are running longer than time allows.
  • Reporting:
    • Prior to the assembly of the board pack for the next board meeting, the committee chair should submit a concise report on the committee’s work, focusing on any recommendations for action put forth by the committee.
    • Failing to submit a report means that board members will not have an opportunity before the board meeting to digest the issues, consider questions, and formulate potential leanings.
    • Keep committee reports brief. Use bullets and/or numbers. We have to constantly remember that everyone has very limited time. Focus on what you want the board to know, and the decisions you want them to make.

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The Lexian Management newsletter is for informational purposes only.

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