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  • Writer's pictureAlison Finstad

How Big Should My Board Be?

This is the most commonly asked question we receive about boards, and here is a comprehensive answer for you!


Board Development - how big should my board be?

 

When a nonprofit organization becomes a 501(c)3, they are typically required to have two or three board members, depending on the state law. Every organization goes through various life cycles, and the size of the board will ebb and flow depending on the organization’s needs. The average board size of organizations across the US is approximately 15 and has been on a downward trend the last several decades.

 

There is no “magic number” for board size, but there are pros and cons that deserve consideration, as well as a way to figure out the right size board for your organization.

 

Pros and cons

 

Smaller boards may have an easier time scheduling meetings with fewer schedules to coordinate and might have more focused, efficient conversations during those meetings. The board members may be tight-knit and feel great ownership of the cause. They may be nimble, move quickly, and get things done.

 

The cons of small boards are fewer people to help with special projects or events, fewer skill sets to make well-informed decisions and wise plans, less combined experience, fewer networks to extend the reach and influence of the organization, and board members may feel less inclined to honor term limits (and take a well-earned break, thereby risking burnout) because they feel indispensable to the organization and worry about what will happen to the organization without them.

 

Larger boards offer more skill sets, experience, and diverse perspectives. There are more people to share the load of any special project or event, more committees, more personal and/or corporate donations, and it’s easier to achieve a quorum if several people are absent from a board meeting. Each board member offers more opportunities to engage with others of influence and affluence in the community, expanding the organization’s reach.

 

On the other hand, discussions with larger boards may be less focused and volunteers may feel as if their contributions are not helpful and subsequently disengage. In unhealthy large boards, cliques may form, the executive committee may end up with too much “power” if meaningful discussions are perpetually shifted to the executive committee, and there can be a loss of individual accountability.

 

Keep in mind that an odd number of voting members will help to break any ties (or the board chair’s vote can be the tiebreaker).

 

Key Takeaway

 

The best way to determine the right board size for your organization is to launch a Board Development Process where you gain clarity around what your ideal board would look like and the range of people it would require to achieve that goal.

 

Benezet Advisors’ efficient and effective board development process will help you:

 

1.      Gain a clear image of your ideal board: either with the Executive Committee or the entire board, Benezet Advisors facilitates discussion about the personal attributes, resources, connections, demographics, and restrictions required for the ideal mix of board members, specific to your nonprofit.

2.      Create a plan for ongoing recruitment of new board members: with the input of the entire board, Benezet Advisors helps you determine which skill sets are necessary for board governance vs. staff or volunteer involvement, document which current board members fulfill those skill sets, and brainstorm personal and work networks to fill the pipeline with possible new candidates, establishing a practice that should be repeated regularly.

3.      Launch a well-equipped board and a process for increasing board health: we equip board leadership with training as well as any necessary supporting documentation, such as procedures for ongoing board nomination of new directors, board role descriptions, board orientation checklist, board retreat tips, Executive Director and board evaluation forms, articles on board best practices, guidelines on creating committees or advisory groups, and more - to help guide your nonprofit from surviving to thriving.

 

Please contact us if you’d like to discuss your board challenges today!

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