PMA Consulting, LLC

Board Size: Knowing When to Say When!

Today more than ever, our local nonprofits are racing to divert crisis and develop their competitive advantage. For many, the battle for market share supremacy is highly dependent upon the board of directors’ capacity to address key organizational priorities, including fundraising, advocacy and grass-roots marketing.

This realization has stimulated nonprofits to expand the size of their boards, with the hope of cornering the talent pool and minimizing the loss of prospective stakeholders.

But is it really the size or rather the effectiveness of a board that provides the source of competitive advantage? PMA’s research suggests that the optimal size of a nonprofit board varies according to the moment in the board’s life cycle, as well as the evolution of its organizational priorities. Therefore, it is fair to say that board size has it limits and one size does not fit all.

A nonprofit board may be tempted to adopt a large board for the following reasons:

  • To provide enough people to more easily manage the work load of the board.
  • To lessen the burden of critical strategies and tactics.
  • To obtain unlimited perspectives.

However, PMA cautions that a large board may not be able to engage every board member in meaningful activity. Also, there’s an increase in the tendency to form cliques and core groups. Not to mention, a large board makes meetings difficult to schedule and often diminishes individual accountability.

Conversely, PMA cautions that a small board may yield burnout from heavy workload, limited output, and limited opinions/points of view.

When relatively new, nonprofits are wise to begin cautiously with a small number of members. However, as nonprofits become more established and their programs and services become more comprehensive, the need to expand is appropriate.

Recent surveys amongst North Carolina nonprofits suggest an average board size of 16 and a median of 15. However, taking the time to understand your unique organizational priorities and to ground your optimal size in careful assessment and evaluation will produce:

  • Effective communication and interaction
  • Constant and meaningful involvement
  • 100% participation

PMA also suggests that the construction of sub-committees facilitates the functioning of a larger board if and when a nonprofit feels inclined to exceed the optimal range.