Only about half of boards use a formal, written self-assessment tool to evaluate their board’s effectiveness. That number is surprisingly low considering that doing self-assessments can be the catalyst that takes a board from stagnant and boring to vibrant and thriving. Non-profit organizations may think they don’t need to perform evaluations on the board or the board members, but non-profit boards have just as much to benefit from a productive board of directors as any other organization.
Overcoming Board Opposition and Gaining Support
Getting the whole board to agree to begin doing self-assessments can be challenging. Some members may not be able to connect the activity with the improved organizational performance. Other members may have done evaluations before and not seen any benefit from it. Still others either think their performance is already great and think evaluations are too much bother, or they may fear criticism that their performance is not really as great as they thought. Timing is almost sure to come forth as a reason for placing self-assessments on the back burner. Not having time is generally an accepted reason for not doing things, but board members will make time when they feel that doing self-evaluations are important enough to do them. Having pressing issues that demand a higher level of priority is certainly a valid reason for delaying board self-evaluations. While urgent issues certainly have higher ranking, proponents of doing self-assessments may strengthen their argument by pointing out that stronger boards deal with crises better than weaker boards.
One way to gain full board agreement is to start a discussion by asking board members to say a few words about how they perceive their role on the board. These discussions can form the basis for a general discussion about the role of the whole board. Defining the roles of board members and the board helps create consistent perspectives among the board.
Self-Assessment Questionnaire or Checklist
The board development committee may use a template that was developed by another organization or customize one of their own. All self-assessments include a list of questions. The answers can be evaluated using any format including yes/no boxes or a 1-5 ranking. The following list includes items that may be added to the checklist.
- Supporting the Mission
Members should evaluate their performances with regard to how well they understand and support the organization’s mission.
- Following Industry Trends and Developments
Board members evaluate how much time they spend reading trade or industry magazines, following related news items, and inquiring about new developments. These duties should spark board discussions about how these issues affect their organization.
- Building and Monitoring Strategy
Board members should evaluate their own abilities to build and monitor the board’s strategies. There should be diversity among board members as to how each of them builds and monitors board strategy and progress. The strength of the board comes in combining knowledge, skills, and expertise.
- Overseeing Programs, Services, and Financial Reports
Board members should have substantial knowledge about the organization’s programs and services. They should read all committee reports and be able to understand and interpret the financial report.
- Overseeing Management
Board members should evaluate their own efforts to collaborate with the CEO and management. They should ask questions and seek to gain clarification of issues, overseeing and supporting executives and management.
- Being a Good-Will Ambassador
Board members should share the good work of their board among their networks. They should always be mindful that their actions and speech inside and outside of the boardroom are a reflection of the organization to the public.
- Understanding Board Structure and Composition
Board members should have an understanding of the board’s structure and composition. This includes knowing the committees and their functions and being willing to serve on at least one committee.
One of the first duties of every new board member is to seek their own replacement. Board members should evaluate themselves on their willingness to seek their own replacement and recruit new board candidates early in their term.
- Board Meeting Participation
Board members should evaluate themselves with regard to spending adequate time in preparing for board meetings and committee meetings. They should also honestly evaluate their participation in board discussions and debates.
- Self-Assessment of Attitude
While serving on a board is an important responsibility, board members should not consider their role a chore. Unless they are re-elected, their service is finished at the end of their term. Time spent on the board should be a rewarding and satisfying experience. Self-evaluations should uncover the health of the board member’s attitude toward the role.
Board members of non-profit boards should take an active part in fundraising. They are usually also expected to give their own personal financial contribution in excess of membership dues.
This checklist of self-assessment items is not comprehensive, but it will give every board a little food for thought. Boards should consider their strengths and weaknesses when forming their own checklists. Doing board self-evaluation is usually an enlightening experience for everyone involved. When it works well, the board will have some new tasks to add to their list of goals. One of the best things that results from board self-evaluation is an increase in collaborative energy which excites and recharges the board.