How Your Nonprofit Board Governance Committee Is Like My Garden

Could your nonprofit board governance committee be like my garden?

My garden is a work in progress. And so is your board.

Just like my garden, your board needs an overseer – to care and feed for the board itself.

Every garden – and every board  – needs a designated person or group to watch over its growth and development. To look out for how well it’s doing.

  • To make sure all the plants (people) are working together ok – no clashes of purples and reds!  
  • To find new plants (members) to fill gaps.
  • To make sure the new plants (board members) get oriented, fertilized and become productive.
  • To make sure the garden (board) works together as a whole.

That’s why you need to morph your Nominating Committee into a Board Governance Committee with broader responsibilities – and a year-round mandate.

Its job is to look after the board’s processes and functioning. It manages the enlistment process of new board members.   And, it’s the recruiting, assessing and social committee of the board.  

Organizations that have active Governance Committees typically have happier, more engaged boards. These are clear about expectations, their work and the results they are creating.

Here are the jobs of your Board Governance Committee:


The Governance Committee looks at how the board operates, how it conducts meetings and how effective the time is that the entire board spends together.

They are the ones who ask: “How did we do?” Are our meetings effective and efficient? Is everyone engaged and involved? Are our meetings actually worth attending?

Consider the power of asking- after adjourning – “How did we do as a board in our meeting today?” 

What an interesting conversation. This is a chance to open up informally, and share opinions and issues that the formal Robert’s Rules of Order meetings don’t allow. 

Annual Board Self-Assessment.

It’s so important to conduct an annual Board Self-Assessment – to find out how well the board is functioning – both as a whole and as individuals. 

The big trouble with board self assessments is this: committees may DO the self-assessment. But then what happens next? Nothing.

Finally you have frank feedback from board members with clear suggestions on potential changes. But it all falls flat.

To give a self-assessment teeth – try appointing a Task Force to discuss its results and recommend changes to the rest of the board.  

Board Member Engagement.

Your Governance Committee oversees the involvement and engagement of all board members. The committee checks in with those who miss meetings and those who have a lot of absences.

In addition, they can monitor board member happiness and satisfaction.

Remember that some board members may be dissatisfied with their role and their experience as board members.

These folks are more likely to catch that dreaded and very contagious disease, “board member malaise.”

Monitor the Group Processes and Culture of the Board.

The idea of group process is so important: it’s the board’s informal way of working together.

In a way, it’s how the “culture” of the group operates:  

  • How it treats its members.
  • What it values. 
  • Who dominates?  Who hides?
  • What alliances there are within the group. 
  • How it communicates among the members and — the tone of communications. 
  • Does the group respect differences or ignore them?  Is there collegiality or division? 

The Governance Committee can be the guardian of your board’s informal culture. They work to keep these attitudes positive, engaged, and focused on the big picture. 

Social Time. 

Social time is wildly important for every board.  Just think: how can a group of people work collegially together if they barely know each other? 

The committee can act as a social committee to foster friendly personal relationships among members.

Consider this: the coffee social before each board meeting can be very valuable.  This is when casual friendly personal conversation happens, which increases trust and cohesion within the group. 

The Governance Committee makes sure that these important social times happen.

Nominations and Enlisting New Board Members. 

A smart Governance Committee who takes its work seriously will constantly be looking for great potential board members. 

It’s smart to always keep a pipeline of several possible board members who are identified and under cultivation. 

The committee would maintain an inventory of the skills, capabilities and other desirable characteristics that are currently represented on the board — and of those that you are seeking to add.  

This includes diversity in all its aspects – age, profession, geographic region, racial, and additional qualities you seek.

Orienting New Board Members.

Orientation is so very important and it’s so often neglected.

Think about how you feel when entering a new group of people who all know each other and who are already working together.  We all too often neglect our new board members, leaving them to fend for themselves and meet other board members haphazardly. 

The Governance Committee makes certain that the new members are properly oriented, and acclimated, and that they get to know the other board members. 

The committee manages appropriate board orientations and invites the rest of the board to attend them.

It’s important to remember that orientations are NOT brain dumps. Because no one can learn everything in a couple of hours!

To help welcome new members, the Governance Committee makes sure those often forgotten and overlooked nametags are ready for EACH board meeting. 

In addition, someone on the Governance Committee needs to take special responsibility for making introductions for the new board members so that they will feel comfortable.   

Your Nonprofit Board Governance Committee can handle many other jobs, too.

How about expectations? By-laws? The annual board retreat. 

I think your board might benefit from a Governance Committee. How about you?