Nonprofit boards spend the vast amount of their time checking up on employees, volunteers and other stakeholders. At least once a year, nonprofit boards should take the time to look at themselves — as individual directors and as a whole board. Conducting board self-evaluations should remind boards of what their duties and responsibilities are and to expect as much or more from themselves as they expect from others.
For boards to be able to put their best feet forward, they need to assess and reflect on their own performances individually and collectively. Annual board self-evaluations give the board a chance to step away from other duties and reflect on how well they are doing relative to strategic planning, overseeing the organization and its needs, and where they can improve individually.
What Boards Gain From Board Self-Evaluations
Nonprofit boards have much to gain from board self-evaluations. The results of the evaluations should offer board directors both tangible and intangible value, and it’s important to look at both. The results should show positive growth in the board, the executive director and the organization.
It’s also important to go into conducting board self-evaluations with a positive mind-set. From start to finish, the process shouldn’t seek to embarrass, demean or blame board members.
Board evaluations should be designed to reveal how the board is performing today, assess their progress toward moving into the future and improve relationships with each other so that they can collectively do their work to the best of their abilities.
It’s easy for board members to get stuck in the routine of their duties. Board evaluations might spark their intrigue about their understanding of their roles and responsibilities. The questions should refresh and clarify their roles.
The evaluations should also highlight important areas of board operation that need attention or improvement. Answers by board directors should seek to assess the board’s progress toward existing plans, goals and objectives. Board evaluations are a chance for boards to define the criteria for an effective and successful board, so they can shape the future structure of the board and the organization’s operations.
Most nonprofit boards find that board evaluations help them build mutual trust and respect. The evaluations also help to improve communication among board members, the executive director and the staff and help everyone to work effectively as a team.
What Kinds of Questions Yield the Best Results About Board Performance?
- Is fundraising moving along as anticipated?
- Is the budget running at a responsible level?
- Do they offer new board directors a comprehensive orientation process that includes their job description, duties and responsibilities?
- How well are existing programs running?
- Is it a prudent time to take on any new programs, activities or fundraisers?
- Has the board nominating committee identified a pipeline of potential board nominees?
- Is the board following industry trends?
- Does the board encourage individuals to file complaints through the proper channels?
- Is the board accessible to the executive director for guidance and support?
Getting at the Heart of Individual Board Directors’ Performance
Each board member will have different answers about their own performance. Questions for individual directors should center around each director’s expectations for themselves. All board members should have clear definitions of the organization’s mission, purpose, values and goals.
Some of the questions should involve expectations for leadership, such as:
- Are they willing to serve in leadership capacities?
- Are they willing to serve on committees as members or chairs?
- Are they willing to take on assignments?
Other questions should aim at board director engagement, such as:
- Do they ask timely and well-versed questions at board and committee meetings that reflect their thoughts and actions?
- Do they support the majority decisions of the board?
- Do they maintain the confidentiality of board meetings and executive sessions?
- Do they speak on behalf of the organization only when authorized to do so?
- Do they periodically suggest items for the agenda pertaining to policy-related matters?
- Do they prepare well in advance for board meetings, committee meetings and organizational activities?
- Are they willing to act as counselor and sounding board for the difficult decisions that executive directors must make?
Board evaluation questionnaires should also inquire about the moral and ethical behavior of board directors, such as:
- Do they avoid asking the staff for special favors?
- Do they go through the proper chain of command and consult with the executive director, the board or the appropriate committee person?
- Do they serve the organization as a whole rather than any special interest group, constituency or donor?
- Do they avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest?
- Are they willing to disclose a conflict of interest in a timely fashion?
- Do they maintain a sense of independence and objectivity?
- Do they act fairly and with personal integrity even when they aren’t required to according to law, regulation or custom?
- Do they refrain from accepting offers of gifts, favors and the like from individuals who do business with the organization?
- Do they exercise responsibility over the organization’s funds and facilities?
Contributing to the Organization With Personal Funds and Networking
Nonprofit organizations typically expect that board directors will make regular contributions to the organization. They should be notified of this during the nominating process. Donations don’t necessarily have to be large. The idea is that board directors should be sufficiently involved in the organization’s cause that they’re willing to invest some of their own funds.
Another expectation for nonprofit board directors is that they should use their personal and professional networks to advance the nonprofit’s cause. Board directors can assist their peers, committees and staff by offering fundraising strategies and encouraging the attendance and involvement of individuals and companies within their personal and professional networks.
Wrapping Up the Benefits of Board Self-Evaluations
Conducting regular board evaluations takes some time away from other board duties, but it’s time well spent that reflects the principles of good corporate governance and helps to move the organization forward. Individual board directors and the board as a whole play an intrinsic part in helping nonprofit organizations achieve their goals and advance their missions.