Mirror, mirror on the wall, who has the fairest board of all?

I pride myself on keeping current with research in my areas of scholarship – board governance, fundraising, and organizational effectiveness. So imagine my dismay at only recently discovering an important work on nonprofit boards that’s been available for four years. 

It took the spring issue of The Nonprofit Quarterly to put me on to Francie Ostrower’s amazing research project, Nonprofit Governance in the United States: Findings on Performance and Accountability from the First National Representative Study. Better late than never, I say, and I hope you agree.  You’ll want to click on over and read the report for yourself. In the meantime, here is some of what Ostrower uncovered in her sector-wide study of more than 5,000 U.S. nonprofit charity boards.


  • Fully half of all nonprofit boards have only white (non-Latino) members. (Actually, I would have expected a higher percentage of white members, given the complexion of the boards with which I work.)
  • While the average board is about 46 percent female, only 29 percent of boards of nonprofits with budgets over $40 million have any women on their boards.
  • Only 7 percent of nonprofit board members in America are young than 36.

Building the board

  • 70 percent of executive directors report that it is difficult to find qualified board members – 20 percent say it is very difficult.
  • Recruitment strategies limited to board members’ friends and acquaintances— the most common approach for small to mid-size nonprofits – result in lower levels of effectiveness on all aspects of board work other than fundraising.
  • Boards that include the chief executive as a voting member generally do less well in the areas of financial oversight, policy setting, community relations, and influencing public policy.
  • Here’s a real myth buster. Ostrower finds no relationship between the size of a board and the level of its members’ engagement. Nor does she find any link between the board’s size and its performance.

Do you see your board in these descriptors? Are you satisfied with the picture?

What's your take on this topic?

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