Do Your Nonprofit A Favor: Start Board Self-Assessments
Anyone who is serious about improving at something, whether it is running, meditation or baking a perfect cake, will periodically stop to assess where there are new facts to learn, skills to practice and research to be done. So why don’t more of us apply these principles to our board service? A board self-assessment is one of the most impactful things a board and its members can do to support a nonprofit.
Self-Assessment Doesn’t Have to Be Scary
Why are many board members reluctant to conduct self-assessments? There are many reasons. Often, boards don’t prioritize it and carve out time to do it. Perhaps board members simply don’t know how to do an assessment. One of the biggest reasons more reflection on board service doesn’t happen is because people are a little afraid to do it.
After all, board members are volunteers and have good intentions. Who wants to purposely face all their deficits and risk feeling insufficient? That is why it is crucial to frame self-assessments in a positive and non-threatening light. If it can be presented as a way for the team to see where their strengths are and how they can help each other make their work easier, board members will be more eager to start some self-assessments.
How to Get Started
Board members are busy. Most juggle demanding jobs and family lives. They volunteer because they’re service-oriented, because they believe in your cause and because they feel their board service makes a contribution to society.
Making self-assessment straightforward both supports the board members and respects their time. Crucially, it helps facilitate a buy-in from the whole board in the first place.
Self-assessments should be an ongoing component of agenda-setting. Many boards find it helpful to select a particular season to run board self-assessments. Then, every year, they can assess their progress and set new priorities. This might be during your annual board retreat or perhaps in the slower first quarter of the year.
What to Assess?
Depending on your nonprofit’s challenges and mission, you may want to assess specific outcomes and how board members can contribute to them. On a personal level, have board members review their board member commitment contract (if you don’t have one, perhaps consider implementing one in the new year), and check in with their own progress on what they said they’d do. Make sure that their metrics are easy to access and understand. Ideally, board members should have a real-time dashboard of significant metrics, so they can see where initiatives and their own performance stands at any given time.
On a board level, you can decide what to assess with a brainstorming session. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- “As a board, what do we want to accomplish within one year?” List three or four priorities.
- “How do each of these priorities advance our nonprofit mission?”
- “At what intervals should we measure goal progress?”
- “What are some things individual board members can do to get us closer?”
- “What is working, and what could change?”
Assessment Is an Opportunity for the Nonprofit
Whether it is a group board self-assessment or individual board members looking at their own performance, these check-ins are a huge learning opportunity for the nonprofit. You might be surprised at what you uncover with these learning moments! What information are board members regularly lacking? Where are they comfortable doing more? Are everyone’s priorities in alignment with those of the whole organization? If not, are there questions we can clarify at our next meeting or retreat?
Just like a hobby or professional skill, board service quality improves with periodic examination of progress. Your board members want to do their best — with some supportive assessment practices, you can empower them toward the best board member experience possible.
Jeb Banner is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a nonprofit board management software provider. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Ind.
Boardable is an online board management portal that centralizes communication, document storage, meeting planning and everything else that goes into running a board of directors.