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Board Effectiveness Checklist For Higher Education Boards

A Board Effectiveness Checklist for Higher Education Boards


Financial sustainability. Increasing staff costs. Enrollment and demographic shifts. Regulatory requirements. Alumni engagement and fundraising. Recognize all of these challenges facing your higher education organization?  

Addressing these challenges requires strategic planning, innovative approaches to education delivery, financial stewardship, and a deep understanding of the changing higher education landscape.  

Collaboration, adaptability, and proactive responses to these challenges are essential for nonprofit higher education organizations to remain sustainable and continue providing quality education to students. 

Board members need to strive to perform at their peak in overseeing the institution. Today’s higher education institutions have to be bold in their actions and decisions while being transparent and inciting trust. 

So, how does your higher education board measure up against these top 10 characteristics on our board effectiveness checklist? Are you hitting 10 out of 10? 

Board Effectiveness Checklist for Higher Education Boards

1. Establish a Stronger Partnership with Management

The board and the senior management team will position themselves better to achieve their goals when they work together to create a more cohesive, collaborative working partnership with each other. Making this adaptation requires them to be curious, ask hard questions, encourage healthy/open debates over tough decisions, and form a united front.

Both parties must be willing to put all the issues on the table. Boards will need to avail themselves of help from technology including dashboards and metrics to provide up-to-date information for better decision-making while also increasing transparency.  

2. Get Back to Governance Basics

Examine the quality of your board orientation training. This is a good place to start getting back to the basics of good governance. Orientation training should focus on the board’s fiduciary responsibilities individually and as a whole board. Board orientations should include a review of the duties of care, loyalty, and obedience.

Impress on new board members that they need to act in the best interests of the institution according to its mission and needs at all times. Board members should be encouraged to offer their individual opinions and still support the decisions of the whole board. 

3. Strengthen the Relationship with the President or CEO

For your educational organization to achieve a higher level of performance requires a close working relationship between the board and the President or CEO of your institution. From their partnership will come thought leadership. They need support from the board to be successful in their role.

Both parties need to understand the scope and limits of their responsibilities. At the same time, boards need to be careful not to overstep management’s role and give the necessary room to achieve their goals. 

Download the Board Effectiveness Checklist to identify areas of improvement and apply best practices for a more effective, productive and successful board.


4. Choose the Board Chair Wisely

The board chair must also adapt in their role to meet the needs of today’s nonprofit organizations. The person who serves in this position is a valuable liaison between the CEO and the board. This position requires an understanding and respect for higher education and the unique challenges that are inherent in the sector.

In building a relationship with the board, the board president should feel confident enough to speak with candor and still be mutually supportive. The board president should also have an interest and familiarity in strengthening the relationships with the organization’s external and internal stakeholders. 

5. Focus on Modern Governance

As with any other board leadership position, board members must be willing to objectively assess their own performances. They need to be willing to uphold and enforce the main governance policies such as the Code of Ethics, Code of Conduct, and Conflict of Interest.

Board composition is a major modern governance issue and volunteer boards should ensure they have the right talent on the board to lead the institution into the future. Board composition should focus on improving diversity and independence. Governance technology such as a board portal by BoardEffect can be a huge advantage for boards that are committed to working efficiently. 

6. Make Efficient Use of Time

Making use of governance technology will free up hours of board time because it automates many of the basic board duties. In addition to that, nonprofit higher education boards should carefully consider how many board meetings they need to do their jobs effectively. Establishing and using committees is a good way to fully vet the issues and make recommendations to the board while freeing the board up to work on strategic issues. 

7. Be Proactive About Enterprise Risk Management

Higher education nonprofit boards are responsible for overseeing risk management. This responsibility requires working with the administrators to understand the organization’s risk tolerance. The board should be instrumental in weighing risks and opportunities and planning to mitigate risks as necessary. In particular, as education are digitally transformed, cybersecurity is one of the key risk factors that higher education boards are now facing. 

8. Community Focus

Building strong relationships with stakeholders, alumni and donors allows educational institutions to tailor their programs and services to meet the specific needs of their community. By actively engaging with diverse groups, higher education organizations can also effectively address diversity, inclusion, and access targets they have set, ensuring equitable educational opportunities for a range of students. 

9. Practice Shared Governance

Practicing good governance is everyone’s responsibility. That comes together when the board and administrators work together toward a culture of shared governance. All leaders need to recognize the importance of collaborative decision-making and encourage it. The rapidly changing landscape of education increases the governance challenges of overseeing organizational issues, tackling cyber risk and keeping pace with regulatory changes.  

10. Focus on Accountability

Board members have a duty to make good decisions on behalf of their higher education community and stakeholders while watching their budgets carefully. Good governance practices are essential in this area. 

The key to nonprofit board effectiveness in these volatile times are collaboration, board engagement, and continually practicing good governance. 

BoardEffect, a Diligent brand, provides many valuable benefits for educational organizations, from secure communications, easy access to key documents, streamlined agenda and meeting management, to peace of mind against evolving risks and potential costs. We’re passionate about the work of boards, which drives how we develop the BoardEffect solution, working with 14,000 mission-driven organizations supporting a modern approach to governance and powering them to meet their purpose. 



Jill Holtz

Jill is a Content Strategy Manager at Diligent. Her strategy background and content expertise working across a variety of sectors, including education, non-profit and with local government partners, allows her to provide unique insights for organizations looking to achieve modern governance.

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