Board Leadership Research


The support that BoardSource provides to individual nonprofit leaders and organizations is strengthened by our broader research to identify and map trends within the nonprofit sector and to unleash the full potential of boards and board leaders to advance the public good through board service.

BoardSource is challenging itself to provide greater leadership to the sector by deepening our own understanding of board leadership and inspiring action on critical sector issues.

As the leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, BoardSource occupies a unique vantage point and leadership role within the social sector from which to identify trends, opportunities, challenges, and solutions. We do this by going deep into the boardroom experience —  gathering data, making observations, and developing and rigorously testing and evaluating various approaches to strengthening governance — and then translating our learning into a call to action for boards across the country and around the globe.

Leading with Intent: BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practices

We have been conducting our signature study, Leading with Intent: BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practices, biennially for more than 25 years. It provides important information about current board composition, practices, and performance and charts important trends and changes in board leadership.

Leading with Intent is the only survey to gather information from both chief executives and board chairs on their experiences in nonprofit boardrooms. Who serves on nonprofit boards? How are boards structured? What are their policies and practices? What challenges them? Are they providing the leadership needed? The answers to these and many more questions can be found in our most recent Leading with Intent report.

Download Leading with Intent 2021


Key Findings

49 percent of all chief executives said that they did not have the right board members to “establish trust with the communities they serve.”

Only 32 percent of boards place a high priority on “knowledge of the community served” as part of board recruitment.

Only 28 percent of boards place a high priority on “membership within the community served” as part of board recruitment.

67 percent of executives report that not enough time is spent by the board on building relationships within the Community that help support and inform the organization’s work.

Organizational power and voice must be authorized by those impacted by the organization’s work.  The individual leaders who compose nonprofit boards reflect an organization’s values and beliefs about who should be empowered and entrusted with its most important decisions. When boards are populated in a way that disconnects them from the communities their organizations exist to serve, it signals that the organization is not in partnership with the community it seeks to serve. Perhaps even more problematic, it signals that the organizations see this as a perfectly acceptable way of operating.

Learn more about the importance of authorized voice and power in our call for “Purpose-Driven Board Leadership.”

To learn more about the key findings from the study, read our most recent Leading with Intent report.

Leading with Intent: Reviewing the State of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion of Nonprofit Boards

In addition to these findings, this year’s study also includes a deeper dive into the findings related to how boards are leading on diversity, equity, and inclusion.  In Leading with Intent: Reviewing the State of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on Nonprofit Boards, we explore to what extent boards are reflective of the communities they are seeking to serve, how boards are thinking about racial inequity in relation to the organization’s mission and programmatic outcomes, and board practices related to diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Download Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Findings

Other Sector Research

Strong, impactful board leadership is within our organizations’ reach, but it will not happen on its own. We need to focus our energies and resources to support boards that are working to strengthen their performance, and we need to challenge those who have not set a higher bar for themselves and their missions.

Governance Primer
National Center for Family Philanthropy

Persevering Through Crisis: The State of Nonprofits
Persevering Through Crisis: The State of Nonprofits
The Center for Effective Philanthropy
May 2020

Benchmarking Foundation Governance coverBenchmarking
Foundation Governance

The Center for Effective Philanthropy
October 2015

Foundation Expenses and Compensation CoverWhat Drives Foundation Expenses & Compensation?
The Urban Institute, Foundation Center, and GuideStar