Reassessing the “80/20” Rule

Dave Blankenhorn

Dave Blankenhorn

It is a well known axiom that 20% of the people in a group perform 80% of the work. This is particularly true of members of a nonprofit board in spite of vigorous efforts to engage everyone.

Why does this happen? Those who join boards are supposed to be dedicated to the organization’s mission and willing to do what it takes to achieve that mission. Here are some of the things that get in the way of full participation.

  • Expectations- In many cases the board member is recruited without ever understanding what is expected of them.
  • Lack of direction and leadership- many would like to do more but are not given clear direction on how to participate.
  • Capacity- some are asked to do things that are incompatible with their respective skills or interests
  • Not feeling a part of the Board- Some Boards particularly those who have been together for some time tend to be clannish and not welcoming to newcomers.
  • “Lone wolves”- there are some people who just don’t work well with others.
  • -Join a Board for the wrong reasons- they are there for the prestige factor or have another personal agenda which doesn’t necessarily mesh with the mission of the nonprofit.

If you have an “80/20” board here are some ways to get more involvement:

  • Figure out who the 80% are. This should not be hard to do.
  • Determine why they were elected to the board and for what reason. Are they “givers” or “workers”?
  • Assess their skills and interests to see what role they can play on a Board committee.
  • Have the Chair and/or ED meet with them to determine what their interests are and how they want to be engaged.
  • If they don’t respond and are still reluctant to be involved decide whether you want them on the board at all. It will be hard to change the culture of your board unless you have more involvement.

The best way to avoid an 80/20 board is to recruit those with suitable talents and interest in your mission and provide them with a clear understanding of what is expected. These new members should have an experienced board mentor working with them for a period of time.

There will never be a perfect board with 100% doing 100% of the work. However, more participation by more people will make a large difference to the success of your mission.

Author:  Dave Blankenhorn, Executive Coaches of Orange County,