John Scola

Bigger is always better…(Except when it’s not!)

posted by
John Scola, CFRE,
John Scola & Associates

Courtney, a new executive director of a relatively small nonprofit, was anxious to learn as much as possible in order to manage her work. She knew intuitively, as well as through her experience as a mid-level manager in a nonprofit setting that board management would be a key element to her success. So Courtney enrolled in a workshop entitled “Volunteer and Board Development” at the community college nearby, and networked ferociously with her fellow directors.

After the 180-minute workshop and networking, Courtney was completely confused about one seemingly-vital element. “What is the ideal size of my board?” she wondered. Her workshop instructor firmly declared that “best practices” dictated a board of 18-25. A number of her colleagues espoused a smaller board, “no more than twelve,” since “they were the only ones who did any work anyway.” Still others declared, “the sky is the limit as far as number of board members.”

Courtney was aware of many concerns associated with board management. She knew about creating board job descriptions, heard terms like “give, get, or get off,” and knew having an orientation for new board members would be a good idea. But the simple question of optimal size of the board eluded her. So, she decided to weigh the plusses and minuses of her options.

A small board, she determined, would be nimble, easier to recruit, and would take far less of her time. A small board would allow members to meet with less notice; there would be fewer busy schedules to try to coordinate, and the nastiness of bureaucracy would be easier to evade. Very appealing! However, Courtney knew a small board could lend itself to power plays and micromanagement. She knew she didn’t want that in her new position.