How Many Members Should Be on Our Nonprofit’s Board?
Having a sufficient number of board members to fulfill the board’s responsibilities, foster a viable organization, get through the federal approval process, and attract funding from foundations is important.
Nationally, the average board has 17 members. Maryland Nonprofits’ Standards for Excellence® code recommends that boards have at least 5 independent members and states that 7 independent members are preferable.
A small board can create several problems:
- There may not be enough people on a small board to complete all of the work.
- Important decisions may end up being made by a very small group. For example, in a board of 5 people, where the quorum may likely be set at three persons, a majority vote could occur with only two of the three attendees present.
- Small boards lack credibility in the eyes of funders, regulatory authorities, and other third parties.
- Small boards draw the attention of regulatory authorities, including the IRS. Applications for exemption (1023 applications used to obtain an organization’s 501(c)3 status) have been returned to the applicant by examining agents when it was determined that the organization did not have enough board members (usually when the applicant had fewer than five board members or just over five board members but some of the board members were related).
- Addressing conflicts of interest that may arise is much more difficult on a small board.
- A small board makes it difficult to attain the diversity that allows the board to be inclusive of the community that the organization represents.
On the other hand, an over-sized board can also create problems. Research shows that a large number of board members (25 or more) can lead to lower attendance, and lower levels of engagement since some board members assume others are carrying the load. However, neither state nor federal statutes state a maximum number of board members a nonprofit board may have.
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From the Standards for Excellence®: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector. The Standards for Excellence code, developed by the Standards for Excellence Institute, includes specific benchmarks and measures that provide a structured approach to building capacity, accountability, and sustainability in your nonprofit organization. The code identifies 6 major areas of nonprofit governance and management: Mission, Strategy, and Evaluation; Leadership: Board, Staff, and Volunteers; Legal Compliance and Ethics; Finance and Operations; Resource Development and Fundraising; and Public Awareness, Engagement
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