The lack of engagement by the governing boards of midsize nonprofits is being brought to the forefront through a new report based on the data compiled from Urban Institute’s first-ever National Survey of Nonprofit Governance that was published last year. Funded with money from The Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, author Francie Ostrower used a subset of 1,862 organizations with annual expenses between $500,000 and $5 million (‘midsize nonprofits’), of the 5,100 total surveyed, in her new report, “Boards of Midsize Nonprofits: Their Needs and Challenges.” This new report is Ostrower’s effort to fill the gap in our understanding of midsize nonprofits, identifying problems areas, and suggesting strategies for their rectification.

The study showed that board members of midsized nonprofits were less participatory, as compared to board members of larger nonprofits, in many basic stewardship responsibilities such as financial oversight, effective recruitment of new members, fund raising, monitoring their own performance, and educating the public about the organization. The study also exposed problems of insularity and homogeneity among the governing board-members of midsize nonprofits: nearly half had not made personal contributions to their respective organizations in the past year and the majority of board members are white, between 35-65 years old.

Furthermore, Ostrower points out that the manner in which the boards address these concerns is critical to the organization’s success. She suggests that new members should be recruited in an environment that makes them feel encouraged or able to make a difference and that boards should seriously start considering how they can take advantage of the oncoming retirement of baby boomers by targeting recruitment with the 65-over group to these board. In general, Ostrower calls for clearly and carefully set board membership criteria, membership encouragement to influence the focus and agenda of the board, and improved self-monitoring by board members.

Ostrower’s report is available here.

- Emily Chan