We are frequently asked ‘How many directors do we need to have on our board’?
The board only needs 3-4 directors to do the actual work of governing (setting the direction for the organization, developing policies, overseeing & monitoring organizational performance, approving the annual budget, protecting the organization and communicating with stakeholders). The tendency for many boards over the past several years has been to move away from large sized boards (12 – 18 directors) to smaller sized boards (7- 9 directors) as they have learned the hard way that too many chefs have a habit of spoiling the soup. For this to work effectively the board needs to ensure that board meetings stay focused on governing and not on operations. The boards who usually do this best are Policy Boards.
‘Working Boards’ frequently have a large number of directors as they are the ones who do the actual work of the organization if there are no staff. Unfortunately, this type of board tends to mix governing with operations and has the potential to create problems such as directors competing with one another for resources; disharmony among directors; and, struggles for power. This can easily be solved by the board creating a Management Operations Committee (MOC) made up of interested directors. Each Director then becomes responsible for one of the responsibility areas of operating the organization (programs, marketing, client services, etc.). One of the directors becomes the Chair of the Management Operations Committee. In essence this group becomes the volunteer staff and the Chair of the MOC the volunteer Executive Director.
This structure frees the board to focus on governance. The person who now reports to the board on operations is the Chair of the MOC, not each director who is responsible for one area of operations. The MOC Chair does not report on the activities of each area of operations but reports on organizational performance which includes achievement of strategic and operational goals; compliance with board policies (including financial operations); and fulfillment of any other directives the board gives to the MOC. For this to work, the board needs to ensure that its board and executive meetings stays focused on governance and not on operations, an almost impossible task for many boards.
Contributed by Vince Battistelli