One of the best practices in nonprofit board governance is having the board complete a board assessment on annual basis. We have all heard the adage that what gets measured is what gets done and this holds true when it comes to governing boards.
A board assessment provides the board with an opportunity to look at themselves as a unit to determine, “what are we doing well?” and “where can we improve?” An assessment provides an opportunity for everyone on the board, even those individuals who are often silent during meetings, to provide input. It is not an opportunity to critique the executive director, individual board members or programs of the organization. Like most assessments, a board assessment should be done on a regular basis, for many highly functioning boards, this means the assessment is completed annually.
To get started, it is often most helpful for the board to determine whether the timing is right for an assessment. It may be best to wait if there is conflict between organizational leadership and the board. One or two board members must be willing to commit to leading a governance committee that is responsible for starting the assessment and seeing it through its completion. In addition to the time that it takes to complete the actual assessment, it will also be necessary for the board to be willing to take the time to evaluate the results; this is often done with the assistance of a consultant who can guide the discussion about the results and assist with the development of an action plan. Board assessments are frequently completed in preparation for a board retreat where the focus is on board development or priorities of the organization, in preparation for a strategic planning process, in preparation for major organizational or board changes.
Using an assessment helps the board to assess itself against nonprofit best practices.
It is important to note, that although boards function as a team, the team relies on the efforts of each individual board member. As part of a board assessment, individual board members will also often evaluate their own performance. This information provides you with information about board member perceptions and where they personally identify areas of weakness. Then, a clear, relevant plan for educating board members can be developed.
We have found that when any type of assessment is mentioned to many nonprofits, there is an inward groan amongst board members. However, a board assessment does not have to be viewed with dread. Instead, look at a board assessment as a way to celebrate the areas where the board is strong and an opportunity to develop a plan of action for areas where some work is needed.
Many nonprofits complete their first board assessment and are frustrated or discouraged by the identified areas of weakness. I would encourage you to not be discouraged, but instead move forward armed with the knowledge you now have about how the board functions. Look at the areas where you need education and training. Which are the most important. Prioritize and develop a plan to integrate regular board training.
Is your organization ready for a board assessment? Contact us today, we can help!