Nonprofit Board Self-Evaluation – The Who, What, When, Where and Why of Board Self-Assessments

The best-run boards take time to self-reflect. They think not only about their past successes but how they can improve their relationship with the staff, their donors, and each other. Well-run boards are not afraid to ask themselves the hard questions about themselves – and to continuously improve.

Who is responsible for making sure that a board self-evaluates?

The Board Development Committee is responsible for making sure that the board self-evaluates. Give this article to your Board Development Committee Chairperson and ask them to consider ways to engage the board in a self-assessment process.

What is a board self-assessment?

A board self-evaluation can focus on one or both of these two areas: (1) the quality of the board’s work as a whole and/or (2) the quality of the individual’s contribution as a member of the board. Assessments of the whole board could include these topics: ability to focus on the mission of the organization, committee effectiveness, board/staff relationships, meeting quality, retreat effectiveness, financial health, organizational policy strength, objectives accomplishment, and suggestions for improvements. If you want to assess each individual’s contribution, your evaluation questions might include these: degree to which you are knowledgeable about the organization’s finances, operations, or personnel, reaction to meetings and committees, areas where expectations are falling short, suggestions for improvements.

There is a several methods of self-assessment. One way is to conduct a general discussion of how the board is doing, what the board is doing well, and where some improvements might help out. This discussion might help tease out some issues that could be further explored in one of two second steps: (1) one-on-one interviews with individual board members or (2) a board survey or questionnaire (which can be anonymous or name optional).

When is the best time to make a board assessment?

Boards that excel conduct self-evaluations on an annual basis. This provides you with feedback about what positive changes have been made in the past year while it solicits ideas for where improvement is still needed. The best time to make a board evaluation is during the middle of the year. At that point you are not a group with many new members nor are you racing to complete your year-end goals. Instead, the middle of the year is a good time to reflect on how things are going and where improvements might help the organization and the board.

Where is the board self-assessment survey conducted?

When your board discusses and evaluates it own progress, you may want to select a different venue than the one where your meetings are typically held. This change in meeting location may help signal to members that you want them to adopt a different perspective on their roles, plans, and activities. If you are conducting a survey or questionnaire, it’s essential to give board members time to reflect on the questions and their responses. Emailing or mailing the questionnaires in advance and giving board members a few days to think about the questions and their answers is a good idea. Their responses can be emailed or mailed back to a specific member of the Board Development Committee – or you can ask board members to bring the questionnaire to the next board meeting. Depending on the technical sophistication of the board members, you can use an on-line survey tool.

Why is it essential to conduct a board self-assessment?

To expect the entire board to engage in an annual self-evaluation is a best practice of well-run boards. This practice demonstrates that each member of the team is an integral part of the whole and that everyone needs to be participate in self-analysis. Annual surveys allow board members to provide feedback on the work they are doing and the work of the group – and it gives the board a way to measure their own progress over time as they seek to improve their board governance and the support they provide to the nonprofit organization that they lead.