Good Advice on Nonprofit Board Formation

September 11, 2010 at 6:29 am Leave a comment

Guidelines on Building an Effective Nonprofit Board of Directors

By Estela Kennen

A good nonprofit board of directors doesn’t just happen. It must be worked on. Here are some considerations to get you started. If you want to end up with an effective board of directors for your nonprofit organization, you should take various factors into consideration.

Size Matters

The number of board members should be not to big, not too small, but just right. What does just right mean? It depends partially on the functions of the board. Larger boards, composed of around 15 members are useful when:

  • fundraising (or donating) is one of the main functions of the board
  • many subcommittees will be necessary for the board to fulfill all its roles

Meanwhile, smaller boards, of about 7 members, can operate more informally and possibly make decisions more quickly. (A small dysfunctional board, however, can be harder pressed to be decisive than a well-run large board).


A diverse group of people is more likely to consider various perspectives on a problem or opportunity, and more likely to come up with creative solutions. Ethnic and racial diversity is critical – the board of directors should look as much like the client population or the population of the surrounding area as possible. But other types of diversity can be important, too.

Geographic diversity can be important. If you represent the interests of a county or state, for instance, it is altogether too easy to end up with a board that is comprised mostly of people who live in the same city where the nonprofit is located—people who can have trouble understanding the needs of your other constituents.

One of the most important areas of diversity you should carefully seek is diversity in expertise. You don’t want everyone in your free clinic’s board of directors to be a doctor, for instance. Nurses, social workers, accountants, and lay people can all strengthen the board. Here are some common types of knowledge and abilities you should look for from different board candidates:

  • Expertise in the subject matter relevant to the nonprofit (for instance, performing arts or homelessness, or whatever it is you do)
  • A solid financial background
  • Experience fundraising, or the ability to tap into high-dollar donors
  • Knowledge of program evaluation

Finding Candidates

The executive director of the nonprofit, other key staff, and the members of the current board should get together to identify people who can strengthen the board. If there is no existing board, the staff should use their network to ask people to ask people if they are interested in participating.

To save time for more pressing board matters at regular meetings, a subcommittee responsible for board recruitment can be formed. (Of course, the entire board might want to vote on new members, but the subcommittee can for a list of potential candidates, approach them, interview them, and present their findings to the board).

Interview for Fit

Once potential board members have been identified and approached, the next step is to interview them. You should look for:

  • explicit assurance regarding the amount of time they are willing and able to commit
  • an understanding and commitment to the mission your organization serves
  • the ability to feel comfortable speaking up along with the ability to listen to other’s opinions
  • the capacity to disagree with a board decision but to support the decision and organization once the vote has been cast

Read the original source article.


Entry filed under: Nonprofit Board Development. Tags: , , .

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