A nonprofit board of directors is responsible for governing the organization’s work and ensuring the organization is fulfilling its responsibility to the public’s trust. But, most nonprofit leaders express a little (or a lot) of frustration with the organization’s board of directors. The board of directors has an important role in the organization; thus, it is important to ensure the board is functioning well.
One of the best and most effective strategies to help the board see the areas where they need to improve is through the use of a board assessment. A board assessment helps the board to reflect on itself as well as:
- Review the different perceptions and opinions among board members
- Increase the level of teamwork amongst board members
- Clarify board expectations
- Determine those areas of board responsibility where improvement is needed
- Establish or re-establish common language and common objectives amongst board members
And, engaging in a board assessment demonstrates to funders and other stakeholders that board members take their role seriously!
So, how do we do it?
Board assessments completed by an outside facilitator trained to lead discussions and ask hard questions will produce the most effective and objective results. Some areas that need to be examined include:
Board Governance: Within this area of functioning, the board looks at itself to see if it is governing through policies while also establishing organizational goals and the approach the board uses in its governance.
Some questions to ask include:
- Has the board engaged in a strategic planning process?
- Has the board conducted an evaluation of the Chief Executive Officer?
- Does the board have effective governance policies in place?
- Does the board look at decisions and actions of the organization through a risk management lens?
- Is there a board and organizational leadership succession plan in place?
Board Operations: Within this area of functioning, the board looks at the structure and operations of the board.
Areas to review include:
- How decisions are made-are they timely and with accurate information?
- Skill mix within the board – is the mix adequate? What skills are needed?
- Does the board allow the Executive Director to lead or do they get involved in micro-managing?
- Do new board members receive an orientation to their board service?
- Is the board aware of relevant, emerging trends and issues facing the organization and or the population the organization serves?
- Does the board have adequate information to monitor the performance (program and financial) of the organization?
Board Culture: Within this area of functioning, the board reviews how it manages the group dynamics within the board. Note, this is the one area where board members may have difficulty in being completely open and honest.
Questions to ask:
- Do the members of the board work well together?
- Do board members feel their comments are respected?
- How is conflict within the board handled?
- Is communication open and honest?
It is also helpful to have each board member complete a self-assessment. This assessment is a gentle way of pointing out to board members areas of personal development.
Once the assessments have been completed, the next step is to acknowledge areas where work is needed. Then, the board can work together to develop a plan of action for improvement in the upcoming year. Beware of putting too many action items in the plan and overwhelming the board; instead, focus on one or two priority areas for the next year.
Does your board need to conduct a board assessment? We are happy to help, send us an email.