I was talking with a colleague recently and his observation was that on most boards of which he was a member, the Board did very little and all decisions were made by the Executive Committee and then brought to the Board for a rubber stamp. I asked him what his thesis was on that subject and he asked, "Are non-profit boards still relevant?"
My answer to him and others is, "It depends." I am not ducking the question by any means; rather my point goes to answer the question of where in its evolution does any non-profit exist? In my 3 decades of working in the non-profit arena, I have settled upon 4 distinct models of board governance and each fits a specific point in the evolution of any organization.
1. The Collective Board - Start Up Model - no Staff - decisions by consensus
2. Working Adminstrative Model - limited staff - maybe just one - Board Members may act as direct service volunteers; decisions by consensus.
4. Policy Model - more staff; more extensive committee structure; decisions made by voting.
4. Policy Governance Model - ED = CEO; fewer committees; board and staff roles clearly separated; CEO makes most decisions.
The other reason "it depends" is whether the Board was recruited to be the fund raising arm of the organizatrion - if so, then my answer is that non-profit Boards are clearly relevant. If they are there just to meet the legal requirements of a 501(c)3, it may be time to take a second look at the relevancy of the group and reduce their committment to as little as an annual meeting or at most, just a quarterly meeting.
People's time is a very important commodity these days (because there is such a scarcity of it), so I recommend using it wisely and efficiently. A small Executive Committee, working in conjunction with the top staff person, can be well utilized to maintain a well-run organization that is aligned with its mission.