The board is the right size to operate effectively.

  • Your bylaws require a minimum number of board members, and sometimes also give a maximum. Have you thought about what number works the best?
  • I have seen minimums as low as three — and while this number might help you stay legal if you lose members, it is not a number that seems very efficient for getting the work done. More typically I see five or seven as a minimum number, and personally I like seven because you can share the work a little more effectively if your minimum includes more people to do the work.
  • Sometimes there is a maximum in your bylaws. Boards of twenty and up have lots of people to do the work, but discussion is more difficult to encourage/manage with that many people around the table.
  • If you have an active committee structure — which is where much of the work of an active board takes place — you need enough strong members to chair the committees, and enough other board members to serve on at least one and possibly more committees.
  • I have heard an argument that you must always have an odd number of board members to prevent a tie vote. I don’t feel this is pertinent, because often not everyone attends, and you have a chair to break a tie if it occurs.

The board understands its role and does its work, including

  •  Sets the vision, mission and direction for the organization, with input from the executive director, staff and consumers.
  •  Is diligent in requiring to see financial statements monthly, and the results of any audit as it is completed.
  •  Hires, supervises and evaluates the executive director.
  •  Does not get involved in day to day operations, but goes through the executive director if day to day topics are discussed.
  •  Is committed to developing resources that allow the organization to grow and thrive.

The board is truly consumer controlled.

  • 51% of your members are people with significant disabilities — that is a requirement. A strong CIL board is 51% people with significant disabilities who are active in the disability community. If you recruit someone with a disability who is new to IL, you must make sure they understand the history and philosophy of Independent Living so they can become active in the disability community.
  • The board seeks consumer input into key areas of planning, setting the mission and evaluating the services.

Each board member commits to the organization in concrete ways.

  • Is a donor to the organization. The amount may not be important — not everyone has the same resources — but every board member needs to believe in the CIL enough to donate.
  • Is an ambassador to the community regarding your CIL. Active board members believe in what we are doing and are glad to spread the word to the community.
  • Attends the meetings of the board. Many organizations, in fact, remove board members who miss a certain number of meetings.
  • Believes in Independent Living. Their language and attitude should show their commitment to equal rights for people with disabilities, and for people with disabilities being in control of their own lives and choices.
  • Serves on one or more committees.
  • Seeks out other potential board members and encourages them to apply.

I have the opportunity now and then to assist centers who do not have an active board. Sometimes they have provided a list of board members to the reviewer — the DSE or ACL — as part of a review, and there has been a disturbing trend among centers in trouble. The reviewer reports that when they called, the number to speak with a board member, it was disconnected or, worse, the person answering denied being on the board or didn’t even know what the center was.

Do not continue to carry names on a list to meet your minimum number of board members in a review. If you’ve lost members, own up to it and put strategies in place to recruit new ones who will be active. This is hard work, and should not be left only to the board. The executive director is likely to meet potential board members while doing business, and certainly can encourage those individuals to apply to be on the board as well.

You want to recruit continually. You can’t look at your roster in July and say, “Oh, no, we have three people terming out! We need to elect three new people in September.” You are unlikely to find good members when you need them unless you have been seeking them out continuously.

And then work with your members to encourage them to be active, through training, mentoring, providing them with resources and supporting them to do the work of an active board member on an active board of directors.

What does it mean to have an active board?

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