By James V. D’Ambrosio

Committees play a vital role in nonprofits, providing information and recommendations to the board of directors, executive director/CEO, and senior management. Such information positions them to make informed decisions in key operational areas. 

The first step in forming a committee is deciding its composition. Ideally, it should be chaired by a board member with expertise in that specific area, along with a second board member, one or two staff, and a member of the community invested in your cause/mission. Input from people with a variety of perspectives increases the likelihood of developing quality recommendations. Several meetings are usually held to decide the basics: how the committee will operate, issues to be addressed, a schedule of meetings, and creating an initial report to the board, presented by the chairperson.  

For this column, we will describe the creation of a development committee for a hypothetical nonprofit,  The James D’Ambrosio Mental Health Foundation. Here’s what an initial report might look like:  


The James D’Ambrosio Mental Health Foundation, a private $20 million nonprofit providing financial support to mental health agencies in the NY Metro area, has established a Development Committee to review the effectiveness of fund-raising activities — board giving/outreach, direct mail, major gifts, government and private grants, special events, donor contributions, etc. — and create a development plan to better organize fund-raising efforts. The Foundation is concerned that structural changes in the economy — brought about by the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression — has resulted in reduced donations and government support. (This past year, the Foundation had to draw on reserves to meet obligations.) 


Board member James D’Ambrosio, a communications professional with experience in the public sector, will chair the committee. He is joined by board member Cara Wilkens; John Stims, director of development; and Myra Vyers, a community mental health advocate. The committee will meet 2-3 times between board meetings, providing regular reports and recommendations. All approved recommendations will be implemented. The Committee is a long-term endeavor, designed to strengthen fund-raising efforts on an ongoing basis.


 The Committee broadly assessed fund-raising activities, asking the following questions:

♦ What has been done in the past?

♦ What is being done now?

♦ How effective have these efforts been?

♦ Why has fund-raising fallen short the past two years?

♦ What can be done to improve results?

♦ What new initiatives might be helpful?

The Committee carefully reviewed the past two fiscal years to see if factors other than the economy negatively impacted fund-raising. In addition, the Foundation’s budget was reviewed in its entirety to determine: a) how much additional funding was needed to meet current obligations; and b) if resources were available to increase development staff.


Based on the above evaluation, the Committee provides the following recommendations to the Board of Directors for consideration: 

♦ Hire a part-time administrative assistant to manage donor files on Raiser’s Edge, a sophisticated database application;

♦ Increase Board involvement in soliciting major gifts;

♦ Membership in The Foundation Center, providing increased resources and professional development opportunities for fund-raising staff;

♦ Develop stronger relationships with banks, leveraging the auspices of the Community Reinvestment Act; and

♦ Hold an additional special event, augmenting proceeds from the Annual Dinner. 


QUESTION TO READERS: What has been your experience with board committees? Is there anything you would like to add?

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