One of the best practices in nonprofit board governance is having the board complete a board assessment on a regular basis. Generally, a board assessment should be conducted at least every two years. For many nonprofits and ministries, this is a new concept-in the past, many organizations never assessed the functioning of the board, but today, it is common knowledge that what gets measured gets done.
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?” 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. If there are several new board members, it may be best to wait until they are more familiar and experienced with their roles on the board. Finally, if there is new leadership, it may be best to wait.
One or two board members should 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.
A second component of the board assessment is an assessment completed by each board member to review his or her functioning as a board member. For some board members, this may be a difficult process, and one that is just a bit embarrassing as they realize they have not really been fulfilling the responsibilities of a board member. Thus, it is important to ensure that the results of the individual assessment are kept confidential and only shared with the full board in aggregate.
We have found that when a board 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.
Once areas where some growth is needed have been identified, a consultant can assist you in prioritizing those areas, perhaps focusing on improving just one or two areas at a time. Consistent effort will make a big difference over the long run.
While the idea of a board assessment can seem overwhelming and unnecessary (after all, the board is just a group of volunteers), remember that the board is the foundation of the organization – the infrastructure! Without a strong and effective board of directors, the organization will not be able to support a God-sized vision.
Is your organization ready for a board assessment? Contact us a call today, we can help!