Published: January 30, 2023


A committee is a group of individuals appointed or elected to perform a specific task or to make decisions collectively. It can refer to a group in a not-for-profit, business, government, or other organisations.

The members of a committee typically work together to discuss, debate, and make decisions on issues within their area of responsibility.

Committees in not-for-profit organisations, sometimes call sub-committees, typically report to the board of directors and provide recommendations and suggestions on specific topics.

Here are a some common examples for the types of committees you might have for your organisation:

Finance Committee: responsible for overseeing financial planning, budgeting, and reporting to the board.

Fundraising Committee: focuses on developing and implementing fundraising strategies and campaigns to support the organisation’s mission.

Audit Committee: oversees the financial reporting process, choosing the independent auditor, and reviewing both internal and external audit results. IN some organisations it might be combined with a Risk Committee.

Nominating Committee: responsible for identifying and recruiting new board members for the organisation.

Generally committees will vary in size and focus depending on the needs of the board and the organisation.

Types of Board Committees

Board committees will typically be one of two types:

  1. Standing committee
  2. Ad-hoc committee

The specific requirements (such as governance structures, constitution or bylaws) and current context of the organisation will determine which type is best to use in. Most organisations will utilise a mixture of standing and ad-hoc committees to meet their specific circumstances and improve their governance.

Standing Committee

A standing committee is a permanent committee established by an organisation’s bylaws or corporate governance structures. Unlike an ad hoc committee, which is temporary and task-specific, standing committees have ongoing responsibilities and play a vital role in the organisation’s operations and governance.

Standing committees are typically responsible for specific aspects of the organisation’s work or governance. Common examples include finance committees, audit committees, governance committees, and nominating committees.

Standing committees will consist of board members and non-board members (depending on the organisations requirements) who have relevant expertise or interest in the committee’s area of focus. They meet regularly to discuss issues within their purview, and report their findings and recommendations to the full board.

The main benefits of standing committees is to help the board manage its responsibilities by dividing the work into manageable portions. This allows each committee to focus on its area of expertise, while ensuring a broad range of issues are adequately addressed at a board level.

Ad-hoc Committee

An ad hoc committee is a temporary, task-specific committee (or task-force) established by a board of directors to manage a particular issue within an organisation. These issues could range from conducting a search for a Chief Executive Officer to overseeing a site relocation, or any other matter that requires focused attention.

Ad hoc committees are typically composed of individuals chosen for their specific skills or expertise pertinent to the task at hand. Once their designated task is complete, the committee is disbanded, differentiating it from standing committees that have ongoing responsibilities.

The use of ad hoc committees highlights an organisation’s adaptive capacity and its ability to focus on specific objectives effectively.

Benefits of using committees

The formation of either a standing or ad-hoc committees allows more effective governance through:

  • Dividing the work of the board into more manageable portions
  • Utilising specialist expertise to address specific challenges or opportunities
  • Keeping the board’s attention on core governance matters
  • Allowing more time to be spent on specific or complex issues

Use of committees allows the board to build a more effective governance capacity to oversee all aspects the organisation.

What is the role of a committee?

The specific responsibilities of each committee will vary based on the focus area. The committee member role often includes researching and gathering information, debating and discussing issues, making recommendations and providing advice, developing policies and plans, overseeing implementation, and communicating activities and decisions. Committees bring together individuals with diverse perspectives and expertise to work on a specific issue or task, playing a key role in decision-making and problem-solving within an organisation.

How many members should be on a committee?

The number of members on a committee can vary depending on the size and needs of the organisation and its board. Committees should have enough members to ensure a diverse range of perspectives and expertise, but not so many that it becomes difficult for the committee to function effectively.

Committees are typically between 3 to 10 members. Irrespective of the number of members the most important factor is ensuring that the committee has the appropriate expertise, resources, and representation needed to carry out its responsibilities effectively.

How do you build a successful committee?

Creating an effective committee requires planning. Start by establishing clear objectives and documenting a clear scope of work for the committee. Next establish a process for selecting or recruiting committee members (with the appropriate expertise, experience and commitment to serve) so that you can fill committee seats with the people who will contribute to its future success.

Ensuring that members have the right mixture of skills, experience and perspectives will mean they can effectively work through the issues they will be responsible for. Encouraging active participation from all members and creating an environment where all voices can be heard is also crucial for the committee's success. Establishing a conduct of conduct for the committee, realistic timelines and expectations, as well as providing the necessary resources and support, will also help the committee work effectively and efficiently. Remember it is important to annually review and evaluate the committee's performance, making any changes and improvements as needed.

How do you choose committee members?

Selecting committee members is an important task because the people who make up the committee will determine its success and how well it functions. Ensure you have taken the time to establish a documented process to for recruitment of committee members. Relevant expertise, background, knowledge and skills are important for the committee members to effectively fulfill their obligations to the board or organisation.

In many cases lived experience representation is important to consider, as the committee should reflect the diversity of the organisation or stakeholders it is making decisions on behalf of. In some cases a committee may be solely made up of board members, however the advantage of committees is also bringing in others who can't sit on the main board. It also allows you to bring in independent expertise and insight from beyond your organisation.

The committee's success depends on active participation from all members, so it is important to choose individuals who have the time and energy to dedicate to the committee.

While expertise, background, knowledge, skills and lived experience are important for many committees diversity of perspectives is also important. This allows for a range of opinions and ideas to be considered and helps ensure that the committee can make informed and well-rounded decisions.

You should also consider the size of the committee as it needs to be small enough to allow for effective decision-making and participation, but not so large that the committee becomes unwieldy.

By considering the above factors, organisations can choose committee members who have the right combination of skills, experience, and perspectives to ensure its success.

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Better Boards connects the leaders of Australasian non-profit organisations to the knowledge and networks necessary to grow and develop their leadership skills and build a strong governance framework for their organisation.

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