Assuring the Best in Nonprofit Management: The Committee on Governance and Leadership Development

The single most important committee of a nonprofit organization’s board is its committee on governance and leadership development (whatever it may be called).  It is charged with identifying and successfully engaging the future leadership of the agency.

Regrettably, in many nonprofits, about six weeks before the annual meeting, the current president or chair of the board wakes up and realizes that he or she had better appoint a “nominating” committee to find people to fill vacancies and choose a new “class” of board members. Great organizations don’t have to do that because they have a standing committee that works year-round to propose criteria for and select potential board members, cultivate their interest in the nonprofit, present them to the board for approval, orient new members to their responsibilities, involve them in the life and work of the board, recognize their achievements, evaluate individual member’s performance and plan for a regular governing board self-assessment processes.

The board’s role is to recruit members of the committee on governance and leadership development and define its responsibilities in writing, either in the bylaws, or in a board resolution.

Specific Responsibilities of the Committee on Governance and Leadership Development

To identify, research, cultivate, recruit, orient, involve, acknowledge and evaluate strong new board members appropriate to current and future needs of your nonprofit.

  1. Review the basic responsibilities and “best practices” literature of nonprofit boards.
  2. Plan for leadership development—for the board, itself, and standing and ad hoc committees.
  3. Prepare annual schedule for a board, all standing and ad hoc committees and individual board and committee member reviews and evaluations.
  4. Assess the current makeup of the board, recognizing strengths as well as weaknesses and identifying potential board members to fill gaps.
  5. Assemble a confidential, cumulative, ongoing list of prospective board and committee members that addresses the needs of the agency for the next several years. Put names in priority order to cultivate. Update every six months, or as necessary.
  6. Cultivate and recruit new board and committee members.
  7. Present names and backgrounds of candidates to board for election or to the committee chair for appointment.
  8. Orient new board and committee members in the context of the first meeting of the “new” board each year.
  9. Ensure all members of the board and committees are active in meaningful work that furthers the organization’s mission and vision. Acknowledge and appreciate participation and contributions of individuals as appropriate..

Leadership is the sine qua non for the success of any venture. To accomplish their missions successfully, nonprofit organizations and, particularly their governing boards and committees, must attract high caliber people, the leaders of our communities, regions and nation, people with vision and commitment, willing to work cooperatively and effectively to contribute their talents and resources.  It is only through the effective work of the organization’s committee on governance and leadership development that the nonprofit can succeed.