Board Committees

Committee authority and structure may be set forth in the CASA/GAL program's by-laws. However the committee structure should remain flexible because the need for certain committees will shift as the program grows and develops. Some consultants suggest that committees should be assessed yearly to determine if changes are needed. Others suggest that committees should be zero-based each year and redesigned to best support the work in the strategic plan or work plan for the coming year. 

Committee Design and Planning

As you design or redesign the committee structure it is important to determine why each committee is needed and what role the committee will play in supporting your strategic goals for the year. Some CASA/GAL programs automatically keep committees the same, year after year, when priorities and strategies have changed. Even when committee structure is defined in your bylaws, committees should not exist without a purpose and should be revisited each year to align with the CASA/GAL program's priorities.

The board chair and CEO should work together to make sure that every board committee chair establishes a clear statement of the committee's purpose, sets annual objectives for the committee, set a yearly meeting schedule and develops timelines and action plans for achieving the objectives. Taking the time to do this planning at the onset helps engage the committee members, sets up a system of accountability and will help determine the number of people needed to fulfill the objectives.

Types of Committees

The most common standing committees are the governance committee, finance committee and executive committee. The governance committee has taken on the role of the traditional nominating committee, but also is responsible for holding current members accountable and providing development opportunities for the board. The governance committee also leads the board self assessment process and assesses board member participation, commitment and contribution. 

Some CASA/GAL program boards have a personnel committee. Experts warn that having a personnel committee can lead to micromanaging. 

Advisory Groups

Some CASA/GAL programs find it effective to have an advisory group in addition to the governing board. BoardSource reports that nonprofit organizations are increasingly turning to advisory groups to supplement the governance activities carried out by the governing board, and that these groups provide a specialized expertise that may be missing from your board or staff. Oftentimes, advisory groups comprise members from the community who may not be appropriate for the board for reasons including conflict of interest or lack of time, but are beneficial to have connected to your program. CASA/GAL programs organized under larger umbrella organizations, often find it beneficial to form an advisory group and work with the governing board to have a liaison from the CASA/GAL program sit on the governing board.   

Programs find it best not to call this group a "board" to avoid confusion with the roles and responsibilities of the governing board. Terms used for advisory groups in the CASA/GAL network include advisory group, advisory committee and advisory council. Advisory groups have no decision making power as that is the responsibility of the governing board. The advisory group's authority is limited to giving advice and counsel. 

Four Steps to Developing an Advisory Board

Hildy Gottlieb, author of many books on board development and co-founder of Creating the Future, offers four steps in developing an advisory board:

  • Step 1:  Know what you need the members to accomplish.
  • Step 2:  Determine whether and how often the advisory group should meet.
  • Step 3: Create job descriptions/list of expectations
  • Step 4: Create a list of candidates.

Questions to Answer Before Creating an Advisory Group

BoardSource offers a reasonably priced resource by Nancy Axelrod entitled Advisory Councils that contains a wealth of information to consider when establishing an advisory group. Axelrod suggests in her book a list of questions that should be answered prior to creating an advisory council, which in adapted form includes: 

  1. What is the purpose of the advisory group? What does the CASA/GAL program want to accomplish?
  2. What are the expectations for the advisory group members?
  3. To whom will this group report?
  4. Who will have the authority to select its members?
  5. Who will provide the staff support to orient, educate, and work with members of the group? How much time will this take?
  6. How will the CASA/GAL program recruit members to the group and how many should be recruited?
  7. What is the relationship between the governing body, the staff and this group?
  8. What are the financial costs of having this group? (travel, insurance, meals, staff time)
  9. Is the idea of developing an advisory board supported by the governing board, executive director and staff?

An advisory group is most successful when the CASA/GAL program staff and board take the time to answer these questions prior to convening the members. Lack of clarity in purpose, weak selection process, boundary issues and underutilization of the group's members are often cited as reasons for failure of an advisory group. 

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