Successful Board Self-Assessment
Why perform a board self-assessment?
Board self-assessments can help identify your board’s strengths and areas in need of improvement. Considering the important role the board has within a nonprofit, improving performance is an opportunity worth exploring. Self-assessments can identify your board’s strengths and areas in need of improvement.
Board self-assessment provides you with the opportunity to:
- look internally at the board itself
- reflect on your board members’ individual and shared responsibilities
- identify different perceptions and opinions among board members
- determine areas of responsibility that need attention
- use the results as a springboard for board improvement
- increase the level of board teamwork
- clarify mutual board/staff expectations
- clarify common objectives as well as check that everyone is speaking the same language, i.e. ensuring that everyone abides by a shared vision
- demonstrate accountability as a serious organizational value
- display credibility to funders and other external audiences
- ensure the board is representative of the community it serves
- verify each member feels included, valued and engaged
Preparing for the Board Self-Assessment
Planning well is half the battle. Here are some tips to help board members prepare for the assessment and look forward to the process.
- Include periodic self-assessment as a principle policy among your bylaws clauses. It is the surest method to make the case for regular assessment.
- Task the governance committee (not your chief executive or the chair) to ensure that assessment takes place regularly and is well organized. This committee is the permanent structure of your board; officers and chief executives change. Also self-assessment is a board commitment; when the call for action comes from within the board, the response is different.
- Plan to conduct a self-assessment every two to three years. It is not necessary to conduct one every year — you need time to implement any potential changes and learn new ways to function as a board.
- Ensure that processes in your bylaws are respected by using your auditing firm as an outside monitor.
- Remind board members that it is not going to be an organizational assessment, but rather the focus is on the board, on its work, structure, and dynamics.
Conducting a Successful Board Self-Assessment
How the board conducts a self-assessment influences how successful it will be while securing its role as a standard process.
- Clarify the purpose of self-assessment to everyone. It is not to be judgmental or to focus only on weaknesses and negative aspects. Its purpose is to help the board get to the next phase of development. One of its benefits is to act as a planning tool for the board.
- Discuss the questionnaire your board has chosen to use to make sure everyone is familiar with the process and has a chance to ask detailed questions.
- Expect confidentiality. Opinions and comments expressed during the process should not be attributed to individual board members but should be shared in the aggregate report. Confidentiality is the only way to ensure that everyone shares honest opinions without a filter or fear of being criticized.
- Rely on an outside facilitator, if possible, to collect the completed questionnaires, analyze the comments, and provide the full board with a report. This third-party confidentiality brings an added level of neutrality to the end discussion.
- Keep in mind that comments and opinions are simply perceptions of board members. There are no wrong answers in a board self-assessment.
- Provide each board member with the opportunity to comment on how they assess their own performance vis-à-vis the full board. It is often quite educational to see the results and oftentimes board members see themselves in a better light than they see the full board’s performance.
- Include your chief executive in the process. They work closely with the board and should have an insightful perspective of the board’s effectiveness.
- Share the results of the assessment with the full board and ensure action is taken afterward. Having a follow-up is recommended to keep the momentum going after a self-assessment.
For some boards, the first board self-assessment experience feels awkward and somewhat daunting. However, if the process and the consequences are accepted, the first assessment should result in a beneficial learning experience. Embarking on a second assessment proves that the board has learned the importance of monitoring its own effectiveness. Assessments are about the future and ensuring that the board’s contribution to the organization is always top quality.
BoardSource offers a Board Support Program, which includes a board self-assessment, the Certificate of Nonprofit Board Education on-demand training, as well as a resource library to support you, your board, and your organization.
101 Resource | Last updated: September 5, 2023