Not-for-Profit Enews Update: Common Elements of a Well- Functioning Nonprofit Board

May 1, 2014

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Most of us have either been a part of, or at least know, a board of directors that seems to click. As a group they appear to work well together, they produce results, and they are able to promote the organization’s mission effortlessly. Sadly, I am certain that just as many of us been on the opposite end of the spectrum, where nothing seemed to get the board motivated or moving in the same direction and getting the board to accomplish even a small task seemed impossible.

While some board dynamics can’t be “fixed,” there are certain characteristics or elements of well-functioning boards that are worth reviewing. Following are 3 commonly asked questions about board structure along with a few key elements of a well-functioning board.

How many members should the Board have? The answer to this commonly pondered question is not in finding the exact number of board members but in obtaining the sufficient range of expertise within the board members that you do have. Having the expertise available to the organization will allow the board to find a way to help further the organization’s mission. So, don’t focus on the number of board members, but on the expertise and qualities of the members you do have (or may want).

What is the appropriate length of a Board member’s term? The main focus of this issue needs to be on establishing policies that encourage both a fresh perspective from new members while preserving the experience of veteran members. To foster this, many boards have moved to a staggered approach to board terms. With a staggered approach, one half to a third of the board is elected annually. In addition, most boards limit members to two consecutive terms of 2 to 3 years each with a 1 year sabbatical before being able to be reappointed.

Committees vs. Task Forces? Much of the work of a board is accomplished through its committees and task forces. Common standing committees, in addition to the Executive Committee (which acts on the board’s behalf) include:

- Governance Committee

- Audit Committee

- Finance Committee

The rest of the work can generally be accomplished through the use of task forces that are created for a specific purpose and are then dissolved after that purpose is accomplished.

Every board member should serve on at least one and preferably no more than two committees or task forces. Members are appointed by the chair of the committee or task force in consultation with the Governance Committee. Make committee assignments based on experience, skills, interests, as well as the available time to commit to serving. Board committees may include people who are not board members but who have the expertise that is needed by the committee.

If you have any questions regarding the article above or any other issue affecting your not-for-profit organization please contact your Blue & Co. advisor or e-mail us at or call us at 800-717-BLUE.