Here are a few things to consider:
Organization’s Age/Lifecycle Stage
The age and current stage of your organization is an important factor in considering how many board members you need. A new organization probably does not need 20 board members, and a seasoned nonprofit should probably have more 3 three serving board members.
However, age alone does not determine the size of your board. Your lifecycle stage will also reveal a lot about your current board needs. For example, times of change, growth, and transition may require a larger board than you have previously needed.
Your geographic scope is another important factor in determining board size. Think about the size of the area you are currently serving. Where are your current programs and services and how wide of an area do you serve?
Generally, the larger your scope, the larger your board (to a point!). For example, a national nonprofit needs more board members than a small locally-serving organization.
Similar to the lifecycle stage, another factor to consider are your current funding needs. This will also be important to consider when actually choosing who will serve on your board. Choosing board members with fundraising knowledge and a large network will be important if you have more funding needs.
Staffing & Expertise
How many current staff members (both full- and part-time) is an important consideration in determining your board size. Not only does this change the responsibilities of your Board of Directors
The expertise of your directors will also affect your total number of board members. If your current board members meet all of your organization’s needs, you probably do not need to add any more seats to your board. However, if you notice a void in available skills or knowledge on your board, it might be time to add a board member (especially if you do not have terms limits).
Legal Constraints and Best Practices
Some state laws require a minimum number of board of directors. Even if your state does not have this law, most nonprofit organizations consider three to be the minimum number of board members as a best practice, anyway.
Most nonprofits also consider it a best practice to have an odd number of board members. This just ensures that you do not run into deadlock issues or tie votes.
There has been a recent, and well deserved, push in the nonprofit sector to make nonprofit boards more diverse. Traditionally, most Board of Directors have been very homogenous- but has been cautioned against due to implicit bias and a lack of diverse perspective.
Take a look at your current board members and ask yourself how you can add diversity to your governing board. When adding a new board member, consider bringing in someone that can offer a different perspective than your current directors.
Similarly, when reviewing your current board, think about what stakeholders and currently being represented by your board. Consider bringing on someone that represents your constituents that receives your programs or services to add a new perspective to your board.
Some nonprofit organizations have different boards that take on different levels of responsibilities and roles for the organization. If you currently have a Board of Directors that is large and not very effective, consider dividing it to include an Executive Committee that has a different role than your larger, comprehensive board. Additional boards may include: advisory, emeritus, or honorary boards.
How did you decide on the size of your board? Let us know in the comments! And as always, we appreciate any other comments, concerns, or questions you have!