What Committees Should Your Board Have?

What Committees Should Your Board Have?

Active, engaged board committees are the engines of high-functioning charter school boards.

Yet, charter schools consistently report having active committees among their top three governance priorities (as shown in our annual Charter School Governance Index).

In this article, we’ll guide you through the basics of laying a strong foundation for active board committees.

-> The difference between a committee and a board

-> The five core committees every charter school board needs

-> Our seven best practices for establishing active board committees

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What is the difference between a committee and a board?

An effective board committee should engage the board in strategic dialogue and facilitate the board’s decision-making.

Committees do the deep work outside of full board meetings. They outline the key issues and recommendations for deliberation by the board, thereby enabling good process and decision-making while saving the full board valuable time.

Committees might also advise staff on key issues, or take on the planning and execution of a significant project.

Committees have limited decision-making authority.

While they research and frame strategic issues, and they might decide whether a matter needs to be addressed by the full board, decisions are still made by the full board. And, their work is largely guided by clearly-articulated board goals.

For example, a detailed review of the cash flow for the organization may be done by the Finance Committee, which then recommends to the board that a line of credit be established. Although the full board is responsible for the decision, board members rely on the diligence and thoughtfulness of the Finance Committee’s recommendations.

Every charter school board needs these five committees.

-> Governance Committee

-> Development Committee

-> Finance Committee

-> Academic Excellence Committee

-> CEO Support & Evaluation Committee

Governance Committee

How do you recruit the right board members? How do you establish each board member’s roles and responsibilities or hold them accountable for fulfilling them?

Your Governance Committee is essential to your board’s overall strength.

The Governance Committee leads your board’s recruiting strategy, leads new board member orientation, organizes your board’s annual retreat, assesses the board’s strengths, and ensures the board receives necessary professional development.

Development Committee

Ensuring that the organization has sufficient funding to meet its charter promises, or support its growth and long-term sustainability, is a vital element of the board’s role.

Your board’s Development Committee assumes the primary responsibility for raising non-grant funds to support the organization’s mission.

Fundraising is a skill and a profession. The board members on this committee should be seasoned development professionals. They should know how to develop and implement a realistic fundraising plan and mentor the other trustees in this area so they might contribute.

Finance Committee

Every charter school is a multimillion-dollar public venture. And financial mismanagement is one of the leading causes of charter school failure. Sound financial oversight is a critically important function for your board.

The Finance Committee works with the CEO and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to create the upcoming fiscal year budget, present budget recommendations to the board, monitor implementation of the approved budget regularly, recommends proposed budget revisions, and recommends policies for the management of the organization’s assets.

A Finance Committee is not a substitute for the full board’s understanding and careful review of the organization’s financial statements and financial health.

This committee should be large enough to bring several different perspectives and a variety of financial skills to the important task of financial oversight. With the proper size, finances will be a strength for your organization.

Academic Excellence Committee

At the heart of every public charter school is a focus on ensuring nothing short of academic excellence for every child.

Your board’s Academic Excellence Committee measures the academic results of the organization against the goals established in your charter, accountability plan, and annual CEO goals.

This means measuring organizational outcomes against stated goals for metrics such as performance on state tests, national standardized tests, or interim assessments.

You might also look at metrics such as attendance, student and staff retention, and family and staff satisfaction surveys.

This committee ensures that the board and CEO share the same vision of academic excellence, that all board members understand the charter’s academic promises, and leads the board in conducting proper oversight of the academic program.

This committee is especially rife with potential pitfalls. Here’s how to avoid them.

CEO Support & Evaluation Committee

Your charter school is led by one person. Though their titles vary widely, we call this person your Chief Executive Officer.

At every stage of your organization’s evolution, the CEO is the linchpin that makes your vision happen.

Whether you’re a single-site school or a growing Charter Management Organization, having the right person in the CEO role, and ensuring they’re fully supported to do the best job possible, is vital.

The board is responsible for hiring (or, when necessary, firing) the right chief executive and providing the support and evaluation that helps your top leader raise the bar each year.

One of the most important functions of any governing board is to effectively select, support, and evaluate the CEO.

Your CEO Support and Evaluation Committee designs and develops the systems and processes that support the board-CEO partnership and help the CEO improve their role. It’s a year-round process and one that we’ve defined for you to follow.

This committee is critical to the health of the whole organization.

And yet, we wouldn’t be surprised to learn that your board hasn’t yet formed one. Or that your committee members feel frustrated and overwhelmed by their roles and responsibilities.

Seven keys to running effective board committees

Don’t let your board’s size stop you from laying the groundwork for the full complement of committees.

If you’re starting, you might be too small to have all our recommended committees. You might be a committee of the whole, as we say — the whole board does the work of each committee.

Committee work is essential to the evolution from a founding board to a sustaining one.

Charter school boards generally evolve along a similar path to excellence. You’ll move from being primarily reactive towards being more strategic. And at each stage along the path, committee work is essential.

Founding board members sometimes hesitate to delegate essential board work to committees.

Even still, it’s important to understand exactly what each board committee does and what skill sets each committee needs.

That way, you’ll be able to purposefully work in the right mindset for each committee within each board meeting.

And, you’ll be on the lookout to recruit the right board members or non-board committee members to help grow your board — and your capabilities.

Every committee must have a job description and a set of measurable goals.

Annually, the board should approve a job description and a set of prioritized goals for each committee.

These two documents set the parameters for the committee’s work and confirm the full board’s buy-in to the committee’s proposed work for the year.

With a dashboard to keep goals visible, you can keep your committees — and the board as a whole — on track during every meeting.

BoardOnTrack’s goals dashboard is built to track each committee’s goals and help them fulfill them. It even allows you to assign tasks to specific trustees to ensure the work gets done.

It’s one of the ways we help keep boards focused on priorities, not personalities, and empower you to do real work together.

Committee work in between board meetings is vital. 

Committee work distills the big issues and frames recommendations for the board to discuss.

Committee work is the heart and soul of any board. And substantive committee work in between board meetings is one of the keys to an effective board. Many charter school boards could be much more effective if they had active, functioning committees — and not committees in name only.

Small boards sometimes choose to do most tasks as a “committee of the whole.” This is a good strategy only for very young organizations — during the initial founding and startup years. But as you grow and your organization evolves, it is essential that you form committees, have clear committee work plans, and ensure that committees do substantive work in between meetings.

Board committees should meet as often as necessary to accomplish their work.

But, committees should only feel compelled to meet when substantive work is to be done.

For example, a Facilities Committee racing to close a deal on a new building might need to meet every week for six weeks straight. Whereas the Finance Committee might need a meeting once a month to review the monthly financials.

To the extent possible, map out your committee meetings for the year. And get them on your committee members’ calendars. Your trustees are volunteers — and very busy people. It’s much more likely they’ll come to meetings, and arrive having prepared in advance if they know about them far in advance.

If you’re unclear about how many meetings any committee will need, it’s better to pencil them all in for the year. It’s easier to cancel meetings than it is to ask busy people to schedule them at the last minute.

Each committee must keep accurate meeting minutes.

Just like for board meeting minutes, your committee meeting minutes are the record of the actions that were taken at the meeting and by whom.

When you schedule your committee meetings in BoardOnTrack, managing your committee meeting minutes is simple.

The platform automatically creates a folder for each committee meeting in the meeting archive. As you create agendas, take minutes, and share documents for each committee meeting, all of those documents are automatically placed in the correct meeting archive folder for you.

This makes it simple for your committees to function at the highest level. It allows other board members to follow the work of each committee. And it ensures that you’re creating an institutional memory of the committee’s work that can survive changing committee chairs.

Strong board committees start with skilled committee chairs.

Strong committees that do substantive work between board meetings are a key component of an effective, strategic, and sustainable board.

The committee chair is responsible for steering your committee's work throughout the year while also tying that work back in with the rest of the board.

Much like board chairs, great committee chairs have strong group processes and facilitation skills. They know how to keep strong personalities focused on the right things and how to move a group to a decision.

Each committee chair sets clear directions and norms for their committee. So, in addition to strong group facilitation skills, committee chairs must be able to:

  • Hold committee members accountable
  • Establish the right protocols for interacting with staff to preserve the governance-management line
  • Help all committee members navigate the tricky role of working directly with C-Suite team members

Your CEO and C-Suite leaders will also have a role to play on your board’s committees.

Committees should be the engine of the board. They need direct, expert support from staff to be successful.

As the organization grows, the CEO will delegate committee liaison work to their C-suite. Staff must be assigned to and clear on their roles to support and sustain effective committee work.

Committee meeting agendas are created in partnership between the Committee Chair and the CEO or their designee {a C-suite member}.

But, in the beginning, they will be heavily involved in the committees and the board overall.

The CEO sets and achieves the management goals and supports the board in achieving them. And the board’s goals will be assigned to each committee.


The BoardOnTrack platform includes an extensive and ever-expanding library of resources. Here are a few key resources to ensure you run strong committees with BoardOnTrack.

How to maintain your committees in BoardOnTrack

Sample Standard Operating Policy For Board Committees

Sample BoardOnTrack Recommended Calendar for each committee

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