While I don't think I can fully comprehend the willingness of some folks to serve on multiple nonprofit boards, the fact is there are those who do. Some folks I have met serve on as many as 5-6 boards - yes, at the same time. Whew I say! This feels exhausting just thinking about it considering the number of meetings one might attend in any given month and the number of asks one might be encouraged to solicit and the amount of reading and prep for meetings. Whew!
Eugene Fram, the Professor Emeritus at the Saunders College of Business Rochester Institute of Technology and author of Policy vs. Paper Clips (the original thinking on the Corporate Governance model) has just published some thinking (based on a survey although there are no specifics about the size of the survey and its respondents) about the "professional" board member (someone whose job it is to serve on boards).
Two particular items stood out for me. One was that the average professional board member spends about 250 hours a year doing this job. From my experience and asking lots of sitting board members, their board service averages around 30-40 hours a year. That's a big difference from the 250 hours. One does wonder but maybe professional board members are more serious about their job?
The second item: four is the maximum number of board seats. "If they are on four boards, we don't recommend them. If they are on three, and they have exceptional backgrounds, we will recommend them with a caveat." I actually think four to be a lot also particularly if the nonprofits are all located in the same city and the pool of donors is relatively small. I suppose this might not be so much a challenge if the city is Chicago or New York or LA - well, you get the picture. Related learning and explanations about this limit include that "plural directors may "shirk" their responsibilities to their smaller boards to be more active on larger boards that get more press coverage."
I'll happily send you a copy of the paper or you can ask Professor Fram yourself: email@example.com.