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Increase Your Impact with a Board Self-Assessment

Most boards have some kind of policy around self-assessment. Indeed, BoardSource suggests that boards engage in introspection at least every two years through a board retreat dedicated to exploring the board’s performance.

Is it time for your board to assess its own performance?  Here are some tips for making sure your board self-assessment truly increases your agency’s impact.

Step 1:  Conduct an anonymous survey of the board. 

SurveyMonkey or another similar tool is ideal.  Split your survey into two sections:

Survey Section A:  Board Best Practices

We recommend that you use BoardSource’s Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards as a resource to develop a simple set of questions around best practices.  Ask board members to rate their performance against each of the ten responsibilities.  Don’t forget to leave room for comments!

Example questions:

Does the board actively participate in decisions that set and guide the organization’s strategic direction?

Does the board ensure that the agency has the funds it needs to meet its purpose?

Survey Section B:  Board Culture and Productivity

Add some questions that relate to the board’s ability to work together as a team and its readiness to take on big tasks.

Example questions:

Do you feel safe and comfortable voicing your opinions at board meetings?

Do you have the information you need to effectively make decisions about the agency’s future?

Step 2:  Now that you have the basic data, have a board conversation. 

Focused discussion points will help make sure your assessment is grounded in the work you actually have to do, rather than in just the theoretical construct of a “high-functioning board.”

Ask yourselves:

What is the critical board work we have ahead of ourselves this year? 

Do we need to develop a strategic plan?  Are we in an executive leadership transition? Are we finishing up or launching a capital campaign?

Based on the outcomes of the survey, what are the weaknesses that might make our work more difficult?

Look at the lowest scoring questions on the board survey and determine what you need to do to make your board more robust.  Talk about board culture issues that might negatively impact your ability to make decisions together.

Step 3:  Develop a specific plan for addressing board weaknesses.

You can’t tackle it all at once, so pick one or two problem areas and map out an intervention strategy.

For example, if board members don’t feel they’ve been adequately trained to fulfill their duties, design a new orientation process and schedule a series of in-service meetings to get people up to speed.

What if the board scores itself low on monitoring the effectiveness of agency programs? Then, develop a plan for establishing metrics that will better equip board members to know that programs are fulfilling the agency’s mission.

Ideally, you will generate enthusiasm, ownership, and accountability through this planning process.  And, you will place the bulk of the work for improvement on the board, not on the staff!

Step 4:  Include board development updates in your board agendas.

Don’t let the enthusiasm for change get lost in the fray of your every day activities.  Check in on your goals for board improvement regularly and celebrate the progress you make.

Ultimately, a “high-functioning board” is not just an idea.  Your board self-assessment can make sure you achieve the real responsibility of service – creating a better world.  In other words, IMPACT.

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