Are working groups and subcommittees different?

Borthwick Chris Jul2019lg

In this help sheet series, Our Community’s resident agony uncle, Chris Borthwick, offers answers to frequently asked questions about issues not-for-profits are facing.

Dear Agony Uncle,

I'm wondering if there is a difference between a working group and a subcommittee. Are they both the same thing? I also need some clarity on whether the chair of a board can also be the chair of a working group or subcommittee.

Agony Uncle's answer

In general, a working group is an ad hoc collection of people who come together to deal with a one-off problem (fête management, repairs to hall), while a subcommittee is a continuing group that meets regularly to work on an ongoing issue (fundraising, finance, planning). Both, ideally, should have membership and terms of reference set by the board.

As to the role of the chair, the basic rule is that anything not forbidden is permitted, not the other way round, so unless your constitution has some highly unusual prohibitions you’re good to go.

Whether it’s a good idea depends on the workload of the chair. Any other board member could provide the necessary liaison, though it’s sometimes thought that having one common member between all committees provides some assurance of uniformity as to procedures and standards.

Best wishes,

Agony Uncle.

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