If you asked a newcomer to your nonprofit board of directors to describe the board, which adjectives would they use? Would they use words like healthy, robust and functional? Or would the words used be more along the lines of stagnant, predictable, boring or unproductive? It’s difficult for boards to describe their own performance without doing regular check-ups on themselves.
A board self-assessment is much like going to your annual well-check visit at the doctor. Perhaps you arrive at your appointment thinking that you’re pretty healthy and all is well. Your examination may lend support for the fact that you are in good health. The results of your examination may also show some mild symptoms of something that could lead to poor health if you choose not to address it.
Board self-assessments are like having a regular well-being check. They’ll tell the board if it really is healthy, or if problems are lurking just beneath the surface. While nonprofit boards may be committed to performing board self-evaluations, it’s not an activity they want or need to spend hours of their time on. Online tools are a nonprofit board’s best friend when it comes to identifying areas to assess, distributing self-assessments and monitoring the process to completion.
Preparing the Board Directors for Productive Self-Assessments
Before diving right in to board self-assessments, it’s helpful for boards to spend some board meeting time in discussing what their expectations are for the board. Part of this process entails looking at the experience of the current board. Some nonprofit board directors have never served on a board before. Other board directors may have served on boards of different organizations in the past, but those boards may have had different expectations for themselves.
Having preliminary discussions about the role of your nonprofit board will help the whole board develop consistency in their thought processes about board performance.
Benefits of Nonprofit Board Self-Assessments
Nonprofit boards that practice regular self-evaluations will find many benefits in their results. The process of developing the questions for the assessment will help to fine-tune their criteria for what constitutes an effective and successful board.
Self-assessments will help boards identify issues that they need to clarify that may lead to better policy-making. The results of the assessment should identify gaps in the board’s skill set, identify where they can improve and show them how to strengthen how they work together.
The result should strengthen individual board members, as well as the whole board, because it brings them together in their progress toward existing plans, goals and objectives. The board’s collective skills affect how they will govern and shape the future structure of the board and keep them aligned with their mission.
The overall process should help the board to build trust and respect, which sets the stage for individual members to work effectively as part of a team.
The Benefits of Online Board Self-Assessment Tools
A nonprofit board director’s term usually lasts about three to five years. Since there is much work for nonprofit board directors to do in a short period of time, it’s important for boards to work together as well as they possibly can and to continually work on strengthening board dynamics.
BoardEffect’s board portal system is designed to support the board director development throughout the director’s term. The portal is an online aid to nonprofit board directors from recruitment to nomination and from onboarding through self-assessment. The online survey feature is a built-in tool that stands ready to help board evaluate themselves formally on an annual basis or as needed to evaluate progress on other issues.
BoardEffect designed the portal as an online platform for board directors to communicate and collaborate so that all directors stay current and in sync with board business. In addition to the online survey tool, BoardEffect provides built-in risk management and compliance standards, such as conflict-of-interest disclosure forms. The portal stores board self-assessments so that boards can provide consistency in the self-assessment process in future years.
Board directors can access BoardEffect’s online surveys via the website portal or on their iPad or smartphone. The ease and convenience of using the board portal enables and encourages board directors to complete their self-evaluations at their earliest convenience. The portal also offers a high level of security so confidential board business remains confidential.
In essence, BoardEffect’s board portal streamlines the self-assessment process so boards can make faster and better decisions and remain accountable for their actions and decisions.
Deciding Which Areas to Evaluate
Nonprofit boards have the flexibility to determine which areas they want to examine. In making those decisions, it’s important for boards to assess all areas in relation to the nonprofit’s mission, goals, policies, programs and needs. Some of the areas that boards may want to explore include:
- Conflicts of interest
- Fiduciary duties
- Fundraising responsibilities
- Relationship with staff
- Skills and talents
- Collaboration skills
- Networking and community relationships
It’s important that boards not develop survey questions like a report card. Board directors should feel that they can honestly answer the questions without demeaning, blaming or embarrassing anyone. If we go back to our example of the doctor’s office, we don’t want to be blamed or shamed. We need information, guidance and support to move forward in a healthier way. When boards see problems at the board’s annual self-assessment checkup, it gives them a chance to figure out how to pursue the problems or set up the right course of treatment to begin turning things around.
Just as when you look and feel your best, you tend to put your best self forward, when the board is thriving, the organization also thrives.
Not all board members will initially appreciate why it’s important to conduct annual board self-assessments. That’s why it’s so important to have that initial discussion about what the board’s expectations are for the role of the board and its individual members. It may take some time to get buy-in from the full board to pursue doing board self-assessments. The ease and security of doing board self-assessments online using BoardEffect’s board portal, along with the many other features of the portal, support all areas of the board’s work, and good governance in general.