Developing Terms of Reference

Each committee should have a Terms of Reference document (ToR) that, at a minimum, describes the purpose, scope and authority of the committee. The purpose of the committee is the most important section of this document and unless you have a very good reason, you should not proceed to create a committee without a clearly defined purpose.

Typically the ToR is a written road map for the committee and contains clear and specific information on how the committee is organized, what the committee is trying to achieve, who the members are, and when and they meet. A clear and understandable ToR is the first step to a successful committee!

Below are typical sections of a ToR document. Each section needs to be customized to the unique needs of your committee. More formal committees usually need more formal information and instructions

Committee Name

Official name of the committee or group


Can be standing, ad hoc (special project) or advisory (related to another board, committee or project)


Describe the purpose of the committee (what the committee will do, why it was created)


Clearly describe what is in and out of scope for the committee


Describe the decision making authority of the committee (decides, approves, recommends, etc.)


Type and number of members, how members are appointed, how the chair and co-chair are appointed and a list of members (Name and functional role)

Meeting arrangements

Meeting frequency and location, meeting procedures (if applicable), quorum, details about agendas and minutes (how these will be distributed, available online, who prepares them, etc.), communication between meetings.


Describe whom the committee will report to, in what format, how often

Resources and budget

Describe the available resources (people, rooms, equipment, etc.) available to the committee, Describe the funds available to the committee


Describe the requested/required committee output


State the ToR review frequency and next review date

Review again...

Terms of Reference are not forever! Requirements or other circumstances can change over time and it will be necessary to periodically review the ToR of your committee.
It's best practice to schedule a ToR review at least once a year to make sure you are still on track! (E.g. make a habit to add this to the agenda of the first meeting of each year)