Ask Alyson: Executive Committees – what should they decide?

Posted on August 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Process · Tagged: ,

Dear Alyson –

I’m a new board chair and I have a question about my Executive Committee. Generally, this committee meets a week prior to each board meeting.  We discuss all of the issues and pretty much decide what we think needs to be done for the big questions that will come up at the board meeting.  Then, at the board meeting, someone on the Executive Committee presents the Executive Committees rationale and thoughts for the full board to approve.  Do you think this is a good way of conducting business?


Ralph (alias, for privacy purposes)


Dear Ralph –

I recommend that nonprofit board Executive Committees only be used to make decisions during real emergencies (when the entire board can not convene to handle a time-sensitive situation.)  While I’m not sure this is true in your situation, when I’ve seen Executive Committees making up-front decisions it tends to cause the board members who are not on the Executive Committee to become a bit complacent and passive.  Board members who know that the Executive Committee has already discussed, digested, and decided on each issue that comes before the board will not take the time to understand the pro’s and con’s of each decision.  In cases I’ve witnessed, these non-Executive Committee board members become disenfranchised, emotionally withdrawn, and they offer their time and energy less frequently.   Because maintaining board enthusiasm for and involvement in the organization is such a critical part of an organization’s success, I recommend that the Executive Committee not meet between board meetings but meet only in emergency situations.

As the new board chair, perhaps you could eliminate those Executive Committee meetingsAsk your board committees to prepare and present their brief, one-page recommendations to the entire board during board meetings for the entire board to discuss and approve.