Board Size and Board Management Resources

Dear Kim,

In our area three community organizations are exploring merger/consolidation. In the process of doing this the question of board size has come up. In the past two years, I have become a vocal proponent of a small board (10-13 members) since I serve on or staff three boards of that size. In my 20 years in the nonprofit field I have come to believe smaller board size results in higher effectiveness. Do you agree? Can you suggest some resources to share with the consolidation committee?
—Size Matters

Dear Matters,

I completely agree with you, and my feelings are from experience. I used to be a fan of big boards (25-35) because the work could get spread over a large number of people and you could have some great discussions with such a wide variety of people. In theory, no one had to work really hard because the work could be spread over so many people. Alas, none of the above turns out to be true. I am actually advocating that people go with even smaller boards than you are working with, but since you are having good luck with that, I would stick with the number you have. A board of five-seven people forces you to move a lot of the work out onto ad hoc committees. In fact, some organizations are making their executive committee the board, and moving all the other board members into committee positions. It is much more flexible and fluid, and speaks to the way people like to volunteer now, which is in big chunks of time for short periods of time. As far as resources, I have written about this in my book, Fundraising for the Long Haul. BoardSource.org (http://www.BoardSource.org/) is an excellent resource for finding out all kinds of thinking about board structure. Lester Salamon in his new book, “The State of Nonprofit America” also describes some of the structural issues boards are now addressing. If readers have other resources, please send them in and I will publish them next time.

Good luck.
—Kim