Board assessments are a best practice for nonprofit boards. The reasons for a board assessment are many but perhaps one of the best reasons is the old adage, “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. Best practices indicate an assessment should be completed at least every two years.
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.
The results of an assessment can be overwhelming as you discover all the things the board “should” be doing and is not or the things that it is doing but not doing well. To avoid the feelings of overwhelm and a sense of frustration that can come over us when we feel like throwing our hands in the air and saying, “why bother,” begin to prioritize the tasks the board needs to focus on. Was there a clear consensus on the biggest ache on the board? How about an issue or challenge that seems to come up every board meeting? These are the areas that the board will want to focus on first.
The next challenge, then, is to make sure progress is made toward solving the ache. Some boards find it helpful to schedule a full or half day retreat where they are able to get-away and really focus on solving some challenges. Others find it helpful to include board development activities at every board meeting as a standing agenda item. Whatever you find that works for your organization is fine, just make sure it happens.
It is too easy to take an assessment and shove the results in a drawer never to be looked at again. Doing so will not improve the board or the organization. And, unfortunately, problems that go unresolved or not addressed do not go away on their own – they tend to get bigger!
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.
Is your organization ready for a board assessment? Contact us, we can help!