I second the motion to eliminate all executive committees of nonprofit boards. It is only fitting that I state that in the form of a motion you would commonly hear at any nonprofit board meeting. In fact, if you are on the board of a nonprofit utilizing the concept of an executive committee, seconding motions (already conceived, discussed, tuned and delivered by the executive committee) may be your ONLY reason to attend the meeting as regular board member!

We have all been there when board members race to make the motion to approve the minutes or worse yet race to second it. Those actions are then followed by the race to make or second the single motion or two suggested by the executive committee. In most cases, nobody on the executive committee would actually make the motion because that might make it seem like others had been excluded. I hate to state the obvious, but the rest of the board has been excluded!

Conference RoomYes, those are powerful words, but there are two major reasons are why I make such a statement. They are:

A) I have been part of a several boards where an executive committee was used, which did stifle any true creativity, in-depth discussion and (heaven forbid) any disagreement. It is not rewarding to be a non-executive committee board member unless you are there just to build your resume or some other fluffy reason besides the core reason why all board members should be anxious to be at every meeting and to be heard: “commitment to the cause.”

B) I recently read my good friend Simone Joyaux’s tirade on this key subject. Her post should be required reading for any incoming board chairman, as well as incoming board member!

Simone’s Responses to the Top 5 Reasons for Executive Committees

Here are Simone’s responses to five top reasons people give for creating and keeping executive committees:

1. The executive committee meets in case of an emergency, in lieu of the board, because it’s hard to get the full board together.

Excuse me? It’s an emergency, something vital to the organization, and you disregard the full board and bring together the executive committee. Ask the rest of your board members how they feel, giving this emergency power to a subset of the board. And in this day and age with conference call capability and email? Please. A true emergency belongs to the board.

2. The CEO needs a small group to talk with about very confidential items; a kind of think tank or kitchen table cabinet.

Stop right now! Nothing is confidential to a subset of the board. If any committee of the board knows something, it’s the right and responsibility of the full board to know it. Governance is the legal and moral authority of the board. The board cannot delegate that to any single individual or entity.

3. The executive committee includes the officers and committee chairs and sets board meeting agendas.

Seems to me that’s a waste of your board members valuable time. Imagine you are the treasurer. You chair the finance committee and go to those meetings. You serve on the executive committee and go to those meetings. And you go to board meetings. That’s a lot of meetings and time.

I recommend that the CEO and chair together develop the agenda of board meetings. The CEO should know what’s happening in every committee.

4. The executive committee does the performance appraisal of the CEO.

You don’t need an executive committee for this. You need an ad hoc task force that includes the right people. Put together a task force that lasts for the few months of the appraisal process. Then terminate the task force.

5. Processing information over and over till you lose the edge.

So a committee discusses an issue then refers it to the executive committee. Then the executive committee takes it to the board. This would be great if the issue deserved lots of discussion. And sometimes, issues do, indeed.

Beware: repeated discussion may not add value. And by the time the issue gets to the board, some people have already talked themselves out. They’re bored. They’re impatient. And they act like it. So the full board – some of who were not on the previous committees – feels as if the discussion is getting short shrift. There’s nothing quite like trying to have a discussion when others say, ‘Oh yes, we already talked about that and…’ Exclusionary!

Fixing the Executive Committee Problem

Every single time I reread the words above in Simone’s responses, do I not only think about how much sense they make, but I also re-live every board meeting I have been part of using this beast we call an “executive committee.” They are not good memorials, especially now that I know better.

Correcting the problem is simple. Abolish the executive committee ASAP! Yes, I said it plain and simple. Literally, just dismantle it and then have a wonderfully open discussion about it at the next board meeting. It may just be your best and most engaging board meeting ever!

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Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth. Prior to starting eTapestry, Jay served 14 years as President and CEO of Master Software Corporation. MSC provided a widely used family of database products for the non-profit sector called Fund-Master. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman. Jay is also the author of Stay Together: How to Encourage a Lifetime of Donor Loyalty.
Jay Love