Choosing Board Membership

There are three broad approaches to choosing who sits on nonprofit organisation boards.

  1. A broad membership elects the board.

    In this model members join the organisation and are given the right to elect
    the board. This is most suitable for ‘mass membership’ organisations where
    representation of members’ views is a critical to the success of the organisation.
    Examples include the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Council for the Protection of
    Rural England. Their legitimacy is derived from their representative structures and
    the Board has to reflect members’ wishes. Voters usually choose the board on the
    basis of pen portraits and sometimes ‘manifestos’.

  2. A narrow membership elects the board.

    In this model a small membership (of perhaps 30 – 100 people) is created
    to elect the board. This group often includes past board members and people with
    a long association with the organisation. They are the ‘guardians’ of the
    organisation and commonly meet once a year to receive the annual report and elect
    new members to the board.

    The ‘members’ in this structure are often chosen by the board, but they can be elected
    by a wider group of ‘supporters’ of the organisation. The result is that the board
    chooses the members and the members elect the board. This structure is common in
    arts organisations, bodies receiving public funds and organisations where
    accountability to a wider group is felt to be appropriate.

  3. A Self perpetuating board.

    In this model the board chooses its own membership. The board is accountable only
    to itself and not to a wider body.

    Some boards may have a ‘nominations’ or ‘governance’ committee’ that takes responsibility
    for the search and selection process and recommends new members to the board.

For all models

It is possible in all three models to have ‘supporters’ of the organisation
who pay an annual fee and receive benefits such as information and price reductions.
They do not need to be the legal ‘members’ of the organisation.

In all three options ‘best practices’ include time limited terms of office
(often 3 x three years), role descriptions, induction of new members, training and
support and, increasingly reviews of individual performance.