When you first launch your startup, it’s just going to be you and, if you’re lucky, a couple of other founders. No volunteers, no management staff, no board of directors except yourselves. We’ve written before about the many ways to go about taking the next steps and finding the perfect members for your board - but how will you know when you have the right amount?
Well the overarching truth is that there’s no real limit: give everyone a seat! But the reality is that having just the right number will smooth out the decision-making process while still allowing for constructive discussion and effective governance. That number changes depending on your style of organisation, so let’s have a look at a few ways to go about it.
Choosing your members according to the skill set they bring to the table is a common - and great - way to pick a board. The way an organisation decides which skill sets are the ones they need is with strategic prioritisation - that is, what strategies take priority for the organisation.
If you plan to put on fundraisers, you need someone who knows event coordination, ideally with fundraising experience. Any given organisation will only have a few of these, because they’re the bare fundamentals of their mission and how they achieve it. Setting these strategies in stone means, once you count them all up, you know how many board members you need: one for each strategy (plus a chairperson). Simple, really.
Diversity is always a positive, and choosing a board that represents a broad collection of demographics is a great way to ensure your organisation can meet the needs of those groups. Determining the size of a board that puts this philosophy in the forefront of their decision making is a complicated process that starts with one question: who most needs your help? Is it the blind community? Is it female business owners? Is it the students of the school you are the P&F committee of?
Whatever group you serve, they have people around them who know their situation: from support workers, to family members, to those who once stood where they stand. Choosing members from these people who can analyse issues from differing perspectives of race, gender, social class and personal philosophy will bring a solid foundation of ideas and discussion that a more “one-tone” board may miss out on.
While not as common for smaller organisations, a board may need to represent the organisation’s stakeholders directly. These can include different groups of customers or clients, those who directly collaborate with the organisation, or people from each geographic region in which the organisation operates. Determining exactly which of these groups need to be represented determines your board size.
When it comes down to it, boards can have anywhere from two to thirty members and function well enough. Finding the perfect number for your organisation may take some trial-and-error, but determining how you want your decisions made and by whom is a great first step.