With offices in five major American cities, I am fascinated by the differences in the nonprofit communities across our country. Although there are certainly more similarities than differences, one area where we at Taproot have noticed some real variance is in boards.

While we have seen this anecdotally over the last ten years, this summer, Financial Dynamics conducted a pro bono survey of 6,000 nonprofit professionals for us that helped to define some of these differences across Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Washington, DC. There were 420 respondents—organizational size ranged widely, but the vast majority had budgets under $5 million.

One thing that leapt out at us is that New York City has significantly higher donation levels. Average annual giving is between $1,000 and $2,500, and it has nearly double the number of boards with members who give more than $2,500. The average board member across all five cities gives between $500 and $999 annually.

One might assume that this increase in donations is a product of Wall Street. Not so fast. As it turns out, boards in New York City are the least likely to have one or more members with professional financial backgrounds, and one of the most likely to have marketing professionals at the table.

While New York City stands out in the level of board giving, Chicago nonprofit boards stand out in size. The average board across all cities surveyed has 10-14 members. The average board in Chicago has 15-19 members, and 32 percent of those have more than 20 members.

Board turnover also varies by city.  In Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, boards average one seat change per year. In Chicago it’s two, and in Washington DC, three. Given that Chicago has larger boards, the percentage change likely brings it even with the other cities, making the turnover in the nation’s capital stand out.

Both Chicago and DC boards are also 33 percent more likely to have a member dedicated to human resources than the other cities (where numbers are around 20 percent). It may not be related, but I wonder if having HR professionals on a board increases its capacity to grow and to experience healthy turnover?

As I look ahead to the BoardSource Leadership Forum in Atlanta, I am looking forward to sharing this data with my peers and hearing their reaction and insights. Why do board cultures vary so much by geography, and how can we help bring the best of them to all cities?

Read more stories by Aaron Hurst.

Tracker Pixel for Entry