How Many Board Members?

If they are doing the job right, board membership is not an honorific position nor representational for a specific segment of the membership.  The board has to act as a whole at all times on behalf of the organization as a whole.  That means that every board member must know their job description, have on-going training and development and accountability feedback to fulfill that mandate.  This is way beyond throwing an orientation manual to new board members and expecting them to contribute.
    Start with the numbers.  How many board members do you need?  Groups work most efficiently when their size is seven plus or minus two.  This size gives everyone enough air time in discussion and requires everyone’s active involvement in order to meet task specifications.  Boards of this size are easier to train and monitor because lack of preparation or participation is immediately obvious to everyone.
    Five to nine board members may be too few if you have to allow for fluctuations in member attendance and focus, for example, due to travel, training or deployment demands.  Or there may be legacy political accommodations that require additional positions.  Look carefully, however, at every additional board position.  Each board position requires organizational resources to support it through on-going cycles of training, board work, board meetings, accountability and evaluation.  These are not insignificant dollars as well as board and staff time.  Wouldn’t those resources produce more spectacular results if invested elsewhere in the organization?  If you are at 20+ board members, and many are, it is time to re-work the board and its place in the organization.

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