How to Have an Excellent Board

A good nonprofit board of directors doesn't just happen.  It must be worked on.  If you want to have an effective board of directors for your nonprofit organization, you should take these factors into consideration.


The number of board members should be not to big, not too small, but just right.  What is “just right?”  That depends partially on the functions of the board.  Larger boards, composed of 15 or more members, are useful when fundraising (or donating) is one of the main functions of the board, and/or many subcommittees will be necessary for the board to fulfill all its roles.  Smaller boards 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 diversity is critical – the board of directors should look as much like the client population or the population of the surrounding area as possible.  Diversity of expertise is also important.  For example, you don’t want everyone on your free clinic’s board of directors to be a doctor.  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 your nonprofit organization
  • A solid financial background
  • Experience in fundraising, or the ability to tap into high-dollar donors
  • Knowledge of program evaluation

Finding Candidates

The executive director, other key staff, and members of the current board should get together to identify people who can strengthen the board.  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 votes on new members, but the subcommittee can make 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 of and commitment to the mission of your organization, the ability to feel comfortable speaking up and the ability to listen to other’s opinions, and the capacity to disagree with a board decision but to support the decision and organization once the vote has been cast.

Recent grants received by our clients include:

$200,000 for a private school - for general operating funds

$25,000 for an afterschool program - for a new bus

$20,000 for an organization dedicated to improving English literacy - for their family literacy program

$20,000 for a domestic violence organization - for their emergency shelter program

$20,000 for an agency that provides micro loans to small business - for general operating funds

$15,000 for a program that provides temporary housing and support services for women recovering from substance addiction - for general operating funds

$15,000 for an organization providing services to abused and neglected children - for supplies for children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse

The topic of our next blog on Tuesday, January 10th, will be “How to Improve Your Grant Writing Skills.”

Murray Covens, Principal

North Texas Nonprofit Resources