What are the basic responsibilities for the board, and for individual board members regarding evaluation?
Ensuring the effectiveness of a nonprofit’s programs is among a board of directors’ chief responsibilities. Effective evaluation helps the board carry out that duty. The board’s specific level of involvement, however, depends on a number of factors, including the organization’s size, the scale and potential impact of the evaluation, and staff capacity.
A board member has a responsibility to determine your organization’s internal capacity for evaluation and assess the financial feasibility of the evaluation plan. From there, he or she might be involved in everything from tracking planning and ensuring that the right questions are being asked, to confirming the objectivity and integrity of the results. For a smaller organization where evaluations are not the norm, the board should review the evaluation plan, provide input as it’s refined, and ultimately authorize the plan. However, this is likely impractical for a large organization, where involvement may be limited to reviewing findings.
Given the board’s role in guiding and authorizing the programmatic direction of an organization, evaluation results should be of utmost interest to the members collectively and individually. These help board members to understand whether the organization is meeting its goals; the results also help them to set strategic priorities.
An individual board member’s specific role in evaluation will likely be determined by his or her interest level and expertise. For example, if you’re fortunate enough to have a board member with a background in research methods, you’ll likely want to actively engage this individual in evaluation planning. Your board chair will also have an important role to play in terms of championing the evaluation plan and explaining the board’s role to individual members.
It’s also important for the executive director to communicate with the board members and establish clear expectations around their role in evaluation. Many executive directors are surprised to find that their expectations are not necessarily in line with what the board expects, so good communication is essential.