Subcommittees are an essential role in good governance practices, but it can be tricky to know when to use them. You don't want to have too many overloading your Board Members workload, but you also need subcommittees to ensure that projects and issues are managed effectively. So we have put together this helpful guide so you can navigate the challenges.

What Is A Subcommittee?

Subcommittees are small teams that are responsible for specific tasks within the Board. They only work in one area of the organisation, whereas the Board supervises the more general aspects of governance. The role of a subcommittee is dependent on the Board itself because it depends on what the Board requires of them. The type, size and amount of subcommittees is malleable to the needs of the organisation.

This means that the amount of subcommittees a Board should have is flexible.

How Should A Subcommittee Be Structured?

The structure of a subcommittee and its responsibilities will depend on the task it exists to fulfil. Some subcommittees are ad-hoc committees, meaning that they are established to deal with a specific task short term and then will be dissolved. Other subcommittees are standing committees, which play long-term roles in the organisation. Typically, these tend to be more permanent fixtures of the Board, although they might go through change. 

Creating ad hoc committees is a beneficial means of including non-Board members in the board activities and organisation. In comparison, standing committees offer an opportunity for members to develop expertise in a certain area.

How Big Should A Subcommittee Be?

Subcommittees should generally not be bigger than they need to be, and they should be made with a specific purpose in mind. Members of a subcommittee should all be involved in their assigned task, and if the subcommittee is not working effectively, it should be open to structural change.

The different types of subcommittees that a Board might require will also impact the amount of subcommittees an organisation might have. 


What Are The Different Types of Subcommittees?


There are many different types of standing committees that could be effective for a board to have. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Governance committees, which often oversee the Board and play a supervisory role towards the Board itself.

  • Finance committees, which oversee the budget and ensure funds are monitored and controlled accurately. 

  • Executive committees, that can supervise the Board’s operations and act on the behalf of the board.

  • Evaluation committees, which ensure the products/services of the organisation are evaluated, including analysing the outcomes, goals, data etc.

  • Marketing committees, that develop and implement the marketing goals of the organisation.

  • Personnel committees, which oversee personnel procedures and policies as well as assisting the chief executive with management matters.

  • Development committees, which can overlook the implementation of fundraising plans.

There are also several types of ad-hoc committees that should also be featured within an organisation, even if they only exist short-term. This can include:

  • Audit committees, which organises and supports audit of the finances, programs, or organisation itself.

  • Campaign committees, these are mostly featured in nonprofit boards for the coordination of major fundraising events.

  • Event committees, which oversee the organisation of any events and can often be a subsection of the fundraising standing committee.

  • Research committees, that can conduct data gathering and specific research for a current function of the organisation.

  • Nominating committees, which identify needed Board Members, suggest possible members and support new ones as well.

It is important to remember that the subcommittees a Board might require will fluctuate and change, and will be dependent on what the Board requires them for. Subcommittees are there to make managing the organisation easier, by delegating specific tasks to specific groups. If a subcommittee is not assisting the Board or ensuring their specific goal is met, it might not be needed as part of the organisation. 

How Can Boards Ensure Subcommittees Are Effective?

Every board is unique, and therefore the Board structure and its committee structure as well will also be just as unique. The number of subcommittees that are active is not necessarily important. What matters is that they are achieving their goals for the organisation, and benefitting the Board.

Subcommittees should only be established if they are needed, and should only be maintained if they are being useful and meeting their tasks.

Subcommittees should perform self-assessments to make sure they are working effectively, meeting their specific tasks requirements and assisting the Board. This can be done as frequently as is required, either at each committee meeting or on a more annual basis. 

The Board can use a zero-based committee structure, whereby they plan and form committees only when needed. This means they don't have to keep doing the same things every year. To be successful, the Board needs to assess what is required and make sure only the required committees are formed. 


How Many Members Should There Be On A Subcommittee?

Boards can have Board development plans where members are given the opportunity to work in multiple committees to develop a broad understanding of the organisation. Alternatively, Boards can allow members to stay with the same committee to cultivate a deeper knowledge of that subject area. A balance of these two methods would allow Board Members to gain experience as well as expertise. 

Larger Boards may want to create numerous subcommittees, so all members can partake, yet should avoid forming an excessive amount. Board Members should not serve on more than two committees to ensure they run effectively. This allows members to have the opportunity to focus on a specific area and task, developing expertise while avoiding possible burnout. 

The issue that you may encounter is too many members on one committee. Here, the problem lies in the fact that only a few members will do the work, whilst the rest are not engaged. It is crucial that only those who are active and serve a purpose have a place on a subcommittee.

Ultimately, Boards might require a period of experimentation to ascertain the correct number of members for each committee. But the amount of subcommittees a Board should have remains dependent on the board itself. 

As long as every subcommittee is effectively tackling their tasks and assisting the organisation, hitting a specific number of subcommittees is inconsequential. What should matter to your organisation is how productively they are used, not the amount there is.

How Can Convene Help With Your Subcommittees?

A good governance structure requires fluent communication between subcommittees and the Board. Convene is an award-winning Board Portal, designed to make these relationships easier.

From creating an agenda to establishing a strong admin trail, every step of the process should be as smooth as possible. With the right software, the complex task of management can be much easier! Our comprehensive features include:

Our software now also comes as an integration with Microsoft Teams, which provides the benefits of both Teams and a Board Portal. So your subcommittees at every level can enjoy streamlined collaboration. 

To find out more about how Convene can help your organisation, read our customer success stories or book a demo.

Lottie Wright

Written by Lottie Wright

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