The Ideal Size of a Nonprofit Board Is ...
"I am not sure if she is still on our board," the CEO shared.
I was surprised, and my heart sank. He was talking about a good friend of mine and one of his largest donors.
"She may have rolled off on our advisory board," he added. I was biting my lip so as not to react.
It was the CEO of one of the area's most prominent nonprofits — one that had teetered on bankruptcy in the last year. Wow.
It was also known for having one of the largest boards in the community.
Oftentimes I hear leaders — professional and volunteers — advocating for small boards. Even with the example above, I strongly disagree.
The right size board is tied to the organization, its culture, size, complexity and goals. I have seen very dysfunctional small boards and very effective large boards — and vice versa.
Principle 10 of the Independent Sector's Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice (you can download this resource for free) says a "board should have enough members to allow for full deliberation and diversity of thinking on governance and other organizational matters."
"You get the board you deserve," a mentor once told me. And he is usually correct. Getting the right board members, orienting them and keeping them engaged takes a lot of work. It takes a professional approach and a whole lot of relationship building.
As a fundraising professional, I know and have benefited from large boards. I am a big fan of larger boards. However, large boards that are disengaged do not produce these benefits.
Tailor the board size and function to the needs of your organization — not to needs or agendas of individuals. Craft the right size, with the right systems and procedures in place, support the board with the right orientation and training, engage board members in strategic decision making, and lay out their fiduciary role — including fundraising. Then, be sure that you are connected to your board as a whole and individually — and let your board, and your organization, soar!
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.