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~May 2002~
  • Frequently Asked Questions

I always enjoy having people send me questions about boards, and I thought I might share a couple of them with you.
~ J. Bradner ~


I know that many large cultural and educational institutions have very large boards. Part of the reason for this seems to be the enormous fundraising challenges that they face, and they want to keep major funders and fundraisers involved at the board level. However, for the average nonprofit community agency I believe a board should be no larger than 25 members and no smaller than 12 members.

My experience has been that a board larger than 25 really is not able to involve members meaningfully or build a solid team. This results in poor attendance. Poor attendance is risky for the board as well as for the board member because board members are responsible for exercising judgment in overseeing the organization's affairs. If members do not attend the meetings, how can they exercise reasonable judgment?

On the other hand, a board smaller than 12 can place too much responsibility on too few people. In addition, 12 people may not be a representative of the community, expertise or outreach needed on the board.


First, it is important that board members have a position description that points out their legal responsibilities to exercise reasonable judgment and the need to attend meetings to accomplish this. Clearly there will be times when a board member cannot attend because of personal or business emergencies. However, repeated absences are not good for the organization or the board member.

Second, I suggest having a policy that states that a board member who misses three meetings in a row must retire from the board. The president should make a follow-up call when there are repeated absences and remind the board member of this policy. Usually a board member who has missed this many meetings is relieved to give up the seat on the board, and may even say that he/she would like to come back on the board when his/her schedule permits.

The above points out the importance of having policy board members know about from the beginning of their terms. If it is necessary to enforce a policy with a member, the member will not feel individually attacked but will understand that this is the way the board conducts its business.

This also underscores the need to have meetings with a purpose, meetings that people do not want to miss because important decisions are made and the chairperson knows how to keep the meeting on track. See the February 2001 Boards and Committees for some suggestions for "Meaningful Meetings."

Jeanne H. Bradner

Jeanne H. Bradner is an author, consultant, trainer and speaker on volunteerism, board development and leadership. She is the author of three publications, Passionate Volunteerism, The Board Member's Guide, A Beneficial Bestiary and Leading Volunteers for Results: Building Communities Today. She served as director of the Illinois Governor's Office of Voluntary Action, Midwest Regional Director of ACTION, and Executive Director of the Illinois Commission on Community Service. She is the volunteer program specialist for Illinois' Harper College Volunteer Management curriculum.

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Copyright 2002 by Nancy Macduff.