Does your board approach your annual board evaluations merely as an exercise to check off your task list, or do you view it as a highly effective tool that provides a critical glimpse into your strengths and weaknesses? If you’re completely honest, the answer may lie somewhere in between.
Nonprofits are facing uncertain and challenging times. For those reasons, today’s nonprofits need wise, insightful and innovative leaders. Your annual board evaluation process should help you discover whether your current board members are up to the task. It should also shed light on the types of people and skills your board needs to successfully take your nonprofit into the future.
It’s vital to make your annual board evaluation process a priority. If your board has been struggling or lacks confidence in its leadership, best practices for board member evaluations will help your board yield more meaningful results and get it on pace for future progress.
It’s Not Too Late to Begin Board Member Evaluations
The most recent Leading with Intent survey shows that only 58% of nonprofits admitted using a formal, written self-assessment process for board self-evaluations. The National Council of Nonprofits believes that more boards would benefit from a self-assessment process.
Board self-evaluations are an essential part of nonprofit governance, and it’s never too late to get started with them.
We’ll start you off with ten best practices to help you get meaningful results from your annual board self-evaluations.
10 Best Practices for Board Evaluation
Every board member should understand, accept and support annual board evaluations.
Moving in a new direction is always tricky in the beginning. A board member may opt to present before the board to make the crucial case for conducting self-evaluations. Explain why it’s necessary and what your nonprofit has to gain from the process.
Each board member should share the commitment to evaluating themselves and their peers.
Board members are often okay with evaluating themselves, but they often feel slightly uncomfortable evaluating their peers. For the board self-evaluation process to be effective, all board members need to check their egos at the door and agree to be as honest and objective as they possibly can. The mindset going in should be to identify individual strengths and weaknesses to benefit the good of the whole organization.
Board members will have a greater comfort level in knowing that only the board evaluation committee chair or an independent third-party will read the results of the peer evaluations.
The board should agree on a well-planned, systematic process for conducting evaluations.
Plan to conduct board evaluations at about the same time of year and put the date on your board calendar. Some boards find it helpful to establish a committee to gather and evaluate the results. The designated individual or committee serves as a steering mechanism and follows up to ensure the process gets completed.
Determine the role of the board members and executive staff.
You may delegate the board self-evaluation process to your nominating and governance committee, an ad hoc committee, board member or an independent third party. A member of the board or the board chair may be instrumental in the process. Your board may also opt to include the executive director or another key staff member in your evaluations.
Select evaluation tools that will help you reach your objectives in evaluating the board.
Review different evaluation tools and select one that will yield the most candid answers. Use simple self-assessment questionnaires that will bring valid, efficient and accurate information. Aim for the type of information that your board needs to focus on.
Define your objectives.
What exactly do you hope to accomplish through your board self-evaluations? Perhaps you believe your board composition needs to change. You may want to revisit a recent challenge and reevaluate how you handled it to manage a similar circumstance in the future. There may be critical topics you need to address or relationships that need strengthening. The important thing is to get the entire board on the same page with what you want to accomplish.
Decide on a methodology for the evaluation.
Get on the same page with the methodology for the self-evaluation, so all your board members have a comfort level with it. You may opt for a written questionnaire, one-on-one interview (facilitated by the board chair or independent third-party) or online survey. You might also consider using a combination of methods.
Conduct self-evaluations and analyze the results.
Avoid delays and get the process going as quickly as possible. When evaluating the results, take the current circumstances and recent events into consideration. Prepare a report for the board. You may ask the executive committee to review the results first and consider how best to deliver the feedback to the board.
Perform follow-up tasks to ensure that the board will address any areas of concern that the evaluations brought to the surface.
Problems and challenges may come to the surface when evaluating the results. Form a plan for documenting the results and addressing any areas of concern. Incorporate these challenges into your annual strategic planning. Place any significant outliers and issues on the agenda for full board discussion.
Decide if you will disclose the board evaluation process, whether to make the results public and who should receive them.
It’s common, if not required, for corporate boards to disclose their board evaluation process and make their results public. Nonprofit boards have more leeway in deciding to share their results. Your board may decide to share results only with significant donors and grant-makers to demonstrate that your board takes its responsibilities seriously and that you’re committed to robust and qualified leadership.
Putting it All Together
At the end of the process, go back to the beginning. Did you meet your original objectives? Take ample time to review and discuss the results. When you’re ready to wrap up the process for board evaluations, be sure to put a date on your board schedule to do it again the following year.