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What Is The “Right” Number of Board of Directors?

While setting a standard for board-member size may not be at the top of your priority list, this decision is critical for the competence and health of your entire not-for-profit organization.

In order to create more flexibility, bylaws specifying an ideal range for board size may be better for your organization as opposed to establishing a fixed number of seats.  When this structure is combined with staggered board terms, the organization retains a level of fluidity and the ability to adjust the board size as needed without having to re-write the bylaws.

Varying board sizes can come with both advantages and disadvantages, but generally, studies indicate that group-decision making is at peak effectiveness when the size is between five and eight people.

Smaller boards have the following advantages and disadvantages:

  • Increased cohesiveness
  • Ease of communication and scheduling
  • More focused and concise meetings
  • Fosters high member utilization, engagement, and satisfaction
  • Greater collective experience, expertise, and diversity of opinion
  • Smaller external network
  • More strain on each member increased likelihood of burnout

Larger Boards have the following advantages and disadvantages:

  • Decreased cohesiveness
  • Difficulty of communication and scheduling
  • Less focused and concise meetings
  • Fosters low member utilization, disengagement, and dissatisfaction
  • Less collective experience, expertise, and diversity of opinion
  • Larger external network
  • Less strain on each member; decreased likelihood of burnout

You should consider several things about your organization, including size, committee structure, fundraising needs, and board member responsibilities when determining the most appropriate board size.  The complexity of current issues facing the board should also be considered when making this decision.

Before settling on a final number, your organization should ask itself the following two final questions:

  1. Have we designed a board that can carry out all functions, including committee work, without overburdening the individual volunteer board members?
  2. Have we designed a board that will allow all board members to stay personally involved and interested in the activities of the board?

If your organization can answer “yes” to both questions, you have most likely arrived at the right number.

For more information, always consult a Certified Public Accountant.  Submitted by: Allison Harrell, Shareholder, Assurance Services, Thomas Howell Ferguson P.A. CPAs, (850) 668-8100.

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