Can Numerology Help You Design the Best Nonprofit Board?
Numbers are a dominant question when it comes to designing a good, effective and efficient board. How many are too many or too few? This list highlights the numerical challenges, or at least questions that come to mind, when considering the design and maintenance of a nonprofit board.
- Size of board. 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 15, 21, etc.
- Number of committees. 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 6
- Years for each member term. 1, 2, 3 years
- Number of member terms. 1, 2, 3
- Number of officers. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6
- Percentage of Diversity. 25%, 33%, 51%, 66%, 75%
- Number of board duties. 3
- Number of board responsibilities. 3, 4, 5, 6
- Number of items on an agenda. 8, 10, 12
- Number of board meetings each year. 1, 2, 4, 6, 12
- Number of members for a quorum. 20%, 50%, 51%
- Percentage of votes for an action. 20%, 50%, 51%, 80%, 100%
- Optimal hours for each board meeting. 1, 1.5, 2, 3
“Numerology is the study of numbers and their energetic influence on our lives, According to numerology.com. “Numerology can be used to find direction and meaning in your life. It can also be used for forecasting, to see what kind of energy will be influencing you in the future.”
Numerology in accord with this definition could indeed provide answers to the board design options I listed. Numerology could possibly even provide insights into some additional questions about the prospects for a nonprofit’s future pursuits and success. But, since I’m not a numerology expert, I’m going to offer some considerations to help inform the conversations that will result in decisions about your board’s design.
There Is No Universal Answer
I must make it clear though that I believe there is no universal answer to these design questions. Bylaws may help inform the design questions, but these should not be viewed as the be-all, end-all source. Bylaws, too, were set in-motion at a particular life stage of the organization (or crafted by lawyers simply copying other bylaws) and with specific needs for the founder(s) to address and likely considering compliance with state rules. However, bylaws can be changed to best suit an organization as it matures or changes.
Possible Design Elements
Yes, there are the professionals and other more rote resources that may outright state what they consider to be the proper numbers a board should use, but aside from government-specific regulations, I propose that the best answer is a set of design elements that may be expanded or contracted if need be during the design stage. Design elements can include:
- What is the organization’s mission?
- What is its stage of development?
- What are non-governance the organization needs from its board
- Where is it geographically located?
Now, for an example of how to apply the design elements beginning with the ever-so-plaguing question: How many board members are best?
Of course, the government, particularly state governments, do offer some of this answer. Many states require that a board be constituted of three people at minimum. The rationale:
- Three members help ensure no one person is trying to get away with some illicit use of a nonprofit status (though this obviously is not a sure thing).
- Three members balance the vote (with an odd number of members).
- Three members ensure some separation of oversight duties, with a chair, treasurer and secretary.
But three is not a good number if community representation, a breadth and depth of “smarts,” or a broader base of “getters” or “givers” is needed or desired. Plus, in an early-stage organization (I refer to this as “infancy stage”), there are not enough hands to perform governing and volunteering tasks resulting in one or both of these functions getting the short shrift.
So what’s the answer? Eight board members isn’t too many and all the governance jobs can get done handily and a good number, enough to make a quorum, will show up at meetings without a lot of difficulty. But eight still may prove too few to get a good representation from the community being served. But maybe the community served should have all the seats and that challenge is solved. And of course, 21 is a really large number of members to corral if there is a different need altogether (that is, giving and getting is the most important need).
Personally, I like 13 or nine — nice, odd numbers for attendance and voting purposes and enough seats to place a range of folks who bring perspective and maybe even money. But remember, organizations can also get perspective, expertise and money from folks who aren’t on the board. The one criteria they can’t get? — passion.
A lot of questions and answers must be derived to best fit the organization. Boards don’t come pre-established for a reason. They need flexibility to match the variety of design elements I referred to.
Sure, you can turn to numerology but a really good and honest process will likely produce the best answers.