There are no perfect boards, but, according to Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices, boards that regularly assess their performance perform better on their core responsibilities. Who doesn’t want that? Before beginning an assessment, however, it is essential to fully understand the process. This resource outlines the four Ws (and the H) of board self-assessment: the Why, When, Who, How, and What.
Board self-assessments are tools designed to surface a board’s strengths and weaknesses. They provide an opportunity for the board to learn about itself, celebrate what it does well, and address those areas in need of improvement.
The optimum frequency for scheduling a board self-assessment is every two to three years. This allows the board to review and discuss its assessment results, develop a board development plan to address its challenges, implement changes, and then reassess to determine where further improvement might be required.
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Before beginning an assessment, organizational leaders should understand the unique roles they play in the process.
Before the assessment Preparing in advance for an assessment is one of the most important factors in ensuring a successful outcome.
- Be cognizant of preconceived attitudes toward assessment. Some board members think of performance assessment as a threatening exercise. They may be resistant to change or wary of having their performance scrutinized. Work to ensure full board commitment as early as possible — focus on the positive outcomes of assessment, emphasizing that the process is designed to improve the board’s effectiveness, not punish anyone for poor performance.
- Understand the purpose of the assessment. Allow for an open board discussion to address questions or hesitations about the process. Consider talking with other boards that have successfully completed an assessment to learn more about their approach and how it benefitted the organization.
What to assess The topics covered in your assessment will depend upon the tool your board chooses to use. Select an assessment that best meets the needs of your board while providing a comprehensive view of its overall performance.
Once the board completes the assessment survey, its work is not over. The board should schedule an extended meeting or retreat to discuss the results and develop goals for addressing any areas that can be improved. If applicable, an outside facilitator can assist in creating an action plan for the board to follow.
Read the full report on board self-assessments at BoardSource.
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