What type of board is the most effective? There isn’t a magic number for the size of board that works well for you center. Sometimes your bylaws specify a range, saying something like, “no fewer than four and no more than seventeen”. Within that range (or a wider range if you want to change your bylaws) what works best? Here are some things to consider. Embed from Getty Images
1) Is your organization going through major change? Sometimes it helps to have a smaller but fully engaged board if you are making a series of tough decisions. Sometimes your executive committee can serve this function if your bylaws allow it and if you have a larger board. But don’t be afraid to work with a small board. National trends tell us that non-profits are trending toward smaller boards of directors.
2) Is your board shrinking? I’ve found that this sometimes happens when there is a change in the Executive Director for the Center. If you are that new, incoming Executive Director, don’t feel you have to push the board into growing immediately. Give it a little time. Get to know the current board. Learn how their recruiting has gone in the past. Get to know the community, if it is new to you. Do some planning with that smaller board. Decide together what kind of board will work best for your Center’s future. What attributes are you looking for in new board members? How do you want the board to work in the future.
3) Do you have a committee structure? Sometimes your bylaws require certain standing committees. Typically a standing committee is in place only if it meets a long term, ongoing need the work can be more effectively completed in a smaller group that in the full board meeting. I suggest that you don’t need to make these a bylaws issue, except to define the level of authority that the Executive Committee has. Keeping all other committees as ad hoc gives you more flexibility in what committees you have and how you utilize them. An ad hoc committee meets a short term need and when that need is met, disbands until needed again. Functionally, many standing committees operate like ad hoc committees, don’t they?
4) When is a board too small? Does your organization have a network of strong community partners? Some of the representatives of your wish list of partners might be good board members. Do you have representatives of underserved communities on your board? Do you have access to experts in areas that matter to the board’s effectiveness, like legal, personnel, accounting or other areas where the board may be making decisions. Not all areas need to be represented on the board, but you need access to these partners to grow.
5) Can committees can contain members that are not on the board? While your committees should be chaired by a board member, who can bring committee recommendations to the board as motions, there may be other stakeholders who would make excellent committee members. This may also give you a way to consider potential new board members. Look to consumers and community experts as potential committee members. You may need to help members be aware of the ground rules — this isn’t the place for complaints but rather is a structure for taking recommendations to the board to improve the operations of your center around a specific topic.
6) When is a board too big? When you consider your last board meeting, were there members who were not full participants? Sometimes one person dominates, even on a small board, but when there is a large board, not every member feels engaged in or important to the meeting.
7) When does the membership need to change? Do you find that the board repeats conversations from one meeting to the next? Is progress limited? Are you often struggling to make decisions? Then it is time for the board to consider a board rotation policy. While centers are not required to limit the number of terms a member can serve, it is considered best practice to rotate off the board at the end of two or three terms. This brings in new blood, gives the board member a break, and lets you fill in some of the gaps you’ve identified.
8) Does the board evaluate its own performance? It is important for the board to assess its own performance. Stopping time and taking stock occasionally — we suggest annually — will help the board to set goals for the future that they, themselves perform. Here are some resources for beginning that process.