Does Board size matter?
Posted on: May 21, 2019 at 11:06 am

By Priscilla Guajardo Cortez

I recently attended a nonprofit panel discussion titled Better Boards presented by NXTBoard.  An Austin-based company, NXTBoard provides technology-based solutions to help governing boards achieve success.  The first question posed immediately following the presentation was “How big should my nonprofit board be?”    

The response of the expert panel:  “Well, it depends.”

According to BoardSource’s “Leading with Intent:  2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices,” board size has steadily declined over the past 20 years, with the average board size currently at 15 individual members.  Board Source believes, while there is no “right” size for a board, it is possible for a board to be either too small or too large.

One size does not fit all

Nonprofit organizations in Texas must adhere to the Texas Business Organizations Code, which requires that an organization have at least three directors.  Beyond that, nonprofits have discretion when it comes to composition, ultimate size, and diversity.

When determining the size of your board, nonprofits should consider several factors, including diversity of perspectives and expertise, ease of decision-making, types of issues facing the organization, and opportunities for deeper and meaningful engagement. 

Your nonprofit board may be too small if:

  • the expertise needed to make decisions and plan for the future does not exist;
  • access to networks that can help expand the organization’s reach and awareness in the community so it can secure the funding and visibility it needs to do its work is lacking; and/or
  • it does not operate independently or demonstrate leadership in way that would provide the appropriate level of oversight and balance to the Executive Director.

On the other hand, your nonprofit board may be too big if:

  • not all board  members are meaningfully engaged in planning or decision-making discussions;
  • board members feel disengaged, disconnected, or not needed; and/or
  • the Executive Director is overwhelmed with meeting board member expectations.

There is no magic number to achieve when determining the size of your nonprofit board of directors.  Each nonprofit must decide for itself what the right size is, evaluating the advantages and limitations of large versus small, so it can best accomplish its distinct mission.