In my governance consulting practice I regularly come across board members who are sitting on two-to-three nonprofit boards, simultaneously.
In my estimate, that nonprofit board member contributes approximately 50-60 hours a year in their board service. So, sitting on multiple boards simultaneously may not be that burdensome for the member. Of course, the Sodom & Gomorrah question then becomes: how many is too many before diminishing the value to each board?
I don't honestly have an answer to this question but a recently study demonstrates that prior to Sarbanes-Oxley, corporate boards were principally dominated by a small number of members creating an intricate network where there was no more than 3 degrees of separation between corporations. The London School of Economics and Political Science Business Review noted:
Throughout the twentieth century, directors serving on multiple boards were more likely to be invited onto yet more boards. Serving on many boards was a signal of high status. But after a series of corporate scandals in the early twenty-first century, culminating in the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley act, directors serving on many boards came to be viewed with suspicion. Forbes magazine called such directors “overworked”, others called them “busy”, “overboarded”, even “greedy”, and influential advisors such as Institutional Shareholder Services called for a limit on the number of boards a director served on.
This article focused on the consequences of having broken up the networks created when the few dominated the many but reminded me of an equally important question for nonprofit boards: just how many boards can one person simultaneously benefit? Should nonprofit boards leave it up to the individual as to how many is too many or should there not be a policy?
I would pose that such a policy might consider the question simultaneous board service creates in the philanthropic giving realm. For instance, there is a common practice of asking board members to make the nonprofit they serve as a board member their 1st giving priority after their college and faith practice. What exactly then would be the obligation when they serve on multiple boards?
And what about board and committee meeting scheduling? And are there not a number of other "competing" interests that affect the ability to serve, particularly when a member sits on more than one board?
I don't have a recommendation as to what precisely a policy should be but I am thinking that the topic of accepting board members with multiple obligations should weigh on the minds of the governance committee as they seek new recruits.