Board members of non-profit organizations have a responsibility to the community, the organization, and their fellow board members. All the members must work in cohesion towards the same vision so the organization can flourish.
This is why it is essential to be accountable. Identifying weak and strong areas within the board is important for reaching the highest potential and finding room for improvement.
Who Should Be Involved in the Process?
The assessment process generally occurs at the board level. Often this initiative is steered by the governance or development committees. Other times a special board assessment task force is created drawing on expertise across the board committees. But a few other people can be involved. For example, the CEO or COO of the organization could share some valuable insight into the board’s performance and activity.
For a larger or more complex board, it is often worthwhile to engage an external consultant. This consultant can facilitate the process, help to collect and analyse the collected data, and bring an outside perspective.
But what is essential for the process is a clear owner of the process. One or two individual board members that can drive the process forward.
Frequency of Board Assessment
This is in no way an easy process. It requires time, effort, focus, and dedication. Every board member should be an active participant in this process so that the outcome of this assessment can be effective.
The board assessment process should also be done with due diligence and depending on the size and availability of the board this process should at least take a few weeks or months.
This is why the frequency of it should be every few years as it requires a lot of commitment and time. However, if the board has a high turnover rate then the assessment should be conducted more frequently to figure out problem areas.
Similarly, if the board has a low turnover rate then assessments should be less frequent.
The Process of Board Assessment
Part 1. Determine Your Key Metrics
You need to know what you have to assess, without it the process won’t be effective. From the beginning, a list of qualities should be set out that you need to assess. However, to be more objective you must ask the members what qualities they would want their board to have.
You can make a list and then out of that list, identify the ones that are the most important. Remember, don’t list more than seven qualities. These should work as key indicators of an effective board.
Part 2. Develop The Assessment Instruments
Now that you have identified the traits, use them to guide you towards a survey so you can properly assess. This can be done in two ways, collective board assessment and self-assessment.
Collective Board Assessment
This is a type of assessment technique that will assess the effectiveness of the board collectively. It is not directed towards one individual but to the group as a whole.
You can utilise surveys, interviews, and focus groups to conduct your collective board assessment. You can then add questions that relate to your assessment in the surveys.
However, if you want to conduct interviews instead then they can either be conducted by a member of the board or an outside consultant that can facilitate the interview process.
You can use interviews to address the operational areas of the board such as governance, fundraising, and programs. This will give you a much deeper insight into how everything works and any problem areas that may exist.
This style of assessment is more of an individual reflection that every board member needs to do. This will assess their participation, effectiveness, and contributions to the board.
The purpose of self-assessment is to prompt the board members to examine their level of engagement on the board and the questions you ask should reflect this.
The assessment can be conducted anonymously or openly, depending on the culture of the board and what members are more comfortable with. You can then ask questions that can be open-ended, rank-based, or even simple yes/no questions.
Open-ended questions should elicit individual reflection. Some examples of open-ended questions include:
- Do you have a strong working relationship with the CEO?
- Are you an active participant during board meetings?
- What are the things you find the most challenging about this role?
- Is there are any area of the board you would want to improve?
- Do you prepare adequately for board meetings?
Part 3. Analysis & Reporting
Once the assessment has been carried out, it is now time to understand the data that has been collected. This should be done soon after the assessment. If you don’t have the expertise and neither do other board members then a consultant can be hired to understand this data. They are a crucial asset to this process
Once it is done, a comprehensive report should be created to submit to the board. It is important that you keep this report simple and clear because lengthy reports cause passivity and you would want other board members to be interested in reading the document.
It is also important to identify strengths and weaknesses of the board from the data collected. This will tell the board what needs to be worked on in the future so their work can be more effective.
Part 4. Create A Plan & Take Action
After the report is submitted, it is now time to put the findings of the report into action. Weak areas should be worked on and strengths should be made stronger.
Determine the steps that need to be taken to implement these actions. All key areas should be worked on collectively. Although you can even determine which board members or committees will be responsible for implementing these actions.
Once these actions are implemented, it is important to track the progress of these actions regularly. You can track them at your discretion, either quarterly or semi-annually to assess the progress. This will tell you what areas still need to be improved and so you can strategize accordingly.
The board assessment process is essential and comprehensive. Every step should be taken from this to ensure maximum efficiency. It is a crucial process for the success of the non-profit organization and should be treated as such too.
It should be done with much due diligence and in a proper way because that is the only way it will be effective. However, if someone on the board doesn’t have the expertise to execute this then it is important that you hire outside consultation so this process can create the most fruitful results.