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5 Insights Into Nonprofit Board Practices You Should Know

Recruiting and managing an effective board of directors is easier said than done. Many nonprofit struggle with engagement, volunteerism, giving and overall health.

Bloomerang recently surveyed our database of small-to-medium-sized nonprofits to see how their boards operate. Over 500 organizations completed the survey, and their responses were quite eye-opening.


Here are the results from five of the 10 questions we asked, along with some analysis by myself and other third sector experts:

Use of Executive Committees

Does your board of directors have an executive committee?


Yes: 72%
No: 28%

Apparently, the tradition of a select few making literally every decision, in spite of a carefully chosen and trained full board, will not go away!

So much has been written about this technique of governance that I had at least thought the percentage would be closer to 50/50. I still fervently believe the executive committee should only be used for a few specific reasons, should have very little power and should not meet on a regular basis. Read this post to find out why.

If you do not believe me, please heed what one of the most respected experts on nonprofit governance, Simone Joyaux, states. Here is an excellent bit of wisdom on the subject.

Use of Sub-Committees

Does your board of directors have sub-committees?

  • Yes: 78%
  • No: 22%

It was delightful to see such a large percentage of usage of these critical sub-groups or committees. The reasons for their usage are many:

  • More personal interaction of the board members via smaller groups
  • Involving non board members (key to future recruiting)
  • Keeping committee members engaged between board meetings
  • Provide more time for in depth research and discussion of critical items
  • Moves bigger initiatives forward
  • Providing more details for the larger board to debate
  • Keep vital work going year round for essential items like finance, governance, fundraising, marketing, operations, etc.

Keep those sub-committees going!

Board Member Giving

Do your board members make a financial commitment?

  • Yes (all): 39%
Yes (most): 35%
Yes (a few): 17%
No: 9%

Wow, only 39% of the NPOs surveyed had a full financial commitment of the board members to the cause they serve!

This has been an absolute requirement of every single nonprofit board I have served upon over he last 25 years. Typically, this deficiency is the result of two key items:

  1. Lack of proper board orientation
  2. Lack of a written and signed board member expectations document

Both of the items are essential and are spelled out in section #5 of this post.

I do hope the 61% of the NPOs not achieving 100% giving by the board find a way to add a board orientation and signed board expectation documents soon.

Term Limits for Board Members

Do your board members have term limits?


Yes: 74%
No: 26%

This result is a respectable showing. Establishing and enforcing term limits is smart governance and perhaps even smarter fundraising. This allows your board members to see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as a proper commitment goes.

Yes, board members will be more engaged if they know it is only for a set number of years. Do we all not try to get the most out a limited number of vacation days each year? If they were unlimited, we were probably all tone down our planning and excitement.

Rotating board members off allows any organization to have more of the their very best major gift and legacy giving prospects; namely “Former Board Members!”

Once again, no need to say more.

Finally, having term limits allows your organization to fire lousy board members. There is nobody who spells this out better than our friend and expert Simone Joyaux. Here is my favorite post of hers on the subject.

Volunteer Efforts By Board Members

Are your board members active volunteers for your organization?

  • Yes (every event): 45%
  • Occasionally (a few events): 45%
  • No: 10%

I saved the best result for the last one to report on. 90% of the nonprofits surveyed have board members who volunteer quite regularly or occasionally!

This is outstanding in terms of engagement, as well as setting examples for others. Let’s hope the 90% participation level leads to 90% or more in financial commitment to the cause rather than the level we see in insight three above.


The five insights listed above should create a strategic discussion for an upcoming board meeting for any nonprofit. Perhaps we can impact the future success of your board by focusing in on these insights. Knowledge of best practices can be so powerful in creating the proper changes needed!

How does your board compare to our results? Let me know in the comments below!

The preceding is a guest post by Jay Love, Co-Founder and CEO of Bloomerang, which helps nonprofit organizations to reach, engage, and retain the advocates they depend on to achieve their vision for a better world. A veteran of the nonprofit technology sector, Jay is a founding member of the AFP Business Member Council and chair of the AFP Ethics Committee.

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice