How important is board assessment?
What are the steps in board evaluation?
Performance evaluations are often a cause for apprehension, even among board members. Individuals tend to assume a performance assessment is designed to highlight bad performance, but this should not be the case. Without review and reflection, it’s impossible to determine whether your board and your organization are meeting goals and making progress.
Board evaluations are designed to do the following:
- Identify gaps and improve performance. They help the chair and the executive director understand where they may need to support board members with training, coaching or member partnering to help a member meet goals and objectives.
- Hold the board accountable for its performance. They create transparency and add credibility to board decision-making.
- Offer an opportunity to communicate objectively. They offer a vehicle to openly discuss strengths and weaknesses and realign board members with the organization’s identity, mission, values and goals.
- For the chair, provide important feedback on leadership style and facilitation skills. They highlight the chair’s strengths and weaknesses in handling challenges, and his or her ability to keep board members engaged.
To get started, experts recommend a nonprofit board conduct a self-assessment every two years. That said, it’s also important to assess each board member’s performance before a new term is granted.
Individual board members’ performance can be tied to a full board assessment process by asking board members to rate their own performance at the same time that they rate board performance. You may also want board members to conduct peer evaluations, and assess other board members’ contributions.
Board chair performance can be evaluated by the governance committee or you may want to ask board members to provide anonymous assessments. The results should be communicated in a private meeting.
To make evaluations work most effectively, consider the following:
- Get board buy-in. Without consensus from all members, the board won’t participate.
- Research and explore before you jump in. If you’re new to board assessment, form a task force to investigate how to appropriately conduct a self-assessment. Research the self-assessment tools available and choose those that are best aligned with your needs. Get board members involved at the research and selection phase and have them refine their chosen tool for effective self-reflection. If costs are a concern, identify foundations that fund board development activities and include assessment costs in the organization’s budget.
- Devote time to planning. Ensure members have enough time to complete the assessment and determine when and how you’ll discuss results.
- Consider bringing in a facilitator. Members need to know how to give constructive feedback. If anyone is unclear, you may want to bring in a facilitator to aid in the evaluation process and help discussions go smoothly.
- Follow up and implement recommendations to affect real board change. Expectations and duties should be clarified and each member should be provided with opportunities for self-improvement.
Adapted in part from BoardSource, Assessing your Performance (www.boardsource.org/Spotlight.asp?ID=14.530).