Are You Conducting Nonprofit Board Assessments?

Does your board make conducting a nonprofit board assessment a regular habit? While it may seem like yet another task on the never-ending to-do list, it’s is an essential task for nonprofits. Yet many nonprofits shy away from doing so. 

nonprofit board assessment best practices from board governance coach Kim Donahue

Here’s our brief overview of three ways to assess your nonprofit board.

Nonprofit Board Assessments Can Be Simple

One common misconception about assessing nonprofit boards is that it must always be a formal, highly structured process. There’s a place for that, of course, but that’s not the only approach — nor is it always the best one.

Kim Donahue, one of Boardable’s board members, suggests engaging in a quick, informal nonprofit board assessment by handing each board member two sticky notes at the end of the meeting and conducting a quick Plus/Delta.

Plus/Delta is a concept that is familiar to anyone who has studied Lean practices, but just in case it’s a foreign term, here’s the basic idea:

At the end of a meeting, a team leader asks two questions. One (the Plus) is in the “what’s working?” category, while the other (the Delta) is in the “what should we change?” vein. Both questions are action-oriented. Good answers yield actions that were taken or can be taken. Interested in more? Here’s a resource for more on this Plus/Delta concept.

In the context of board assessment, Kim suggests questions such as these:

  • How are we doing on moving the strategic plan forward?
  • How are we doing at running efficient board meetings?

Pick a topic that you want to learn about, or one that you’re concerned needs improving. Next, formulate the core question into two Plus/Delta questions, such as “How are we succeeding at moving the strategic plan forward?” and “How could we improve at doing the same?”

You’ll be amazed at the power of this small assessment tool. It’s effective in all sorts of meetings, and it’s especially effective in meetings filled with experienced, successful individuals like the ones on your board.

Spend 15 Minutes, Gain a Treasure Trove of Knowledge

It’s very common in the nonprofit world for board meetings to be chock full of business. It’s easy to fill all the allotted time with the typical board meeting business and not leave time for assessment. But again, even more formal nonprofit board assessment doesn’t need to be a time-consuming logistical nightmare.

Consider saving 15 minutes at the end of a board meeting for a short questionnaire. Even better, send the questionnaire out about a month prior to a board meeting or retreat. That way you have time to address any concerning results before or during your next gathering.

There are many such questionnaires available online, but Donahue shares her favorite questionnaire. Select from the following questions, and ask board members to give a 1 to 5 (poor to very good) rating for each statement.

  • Board has full and common understanding of the roles and responsibilities of a board.
  • Structural pattern (board, officers, committees, executive, and staff) is clear.
  • Board has clear goals and actions resulting from relevant and realistic strategic planning.
  • Each member of the board feels involved and interested in the board’s work.
  • Board attends to policy-related decisions, which effectively guide operational activities of staff.
  • All necessary skills, stakeholders, and backgrounds are represented on the board.
  • Board helps set fundraising goals and is actively involved in fundraising.

Of course, these are generic by design. You can (and should) customize your questionnaire to make sense for your nonprofit.

The second section of the questionnaire gives board members space to identify the top areas they believe should be the focus in the coming year.

If you can get 15 minutes out of your board members to complete such a questionnaire, you’ll gain a treasure trove of knowledge.

RELATED: Fun and Easy (Promise!) Board Fundraising Ideas

Sometimes Formal Assessments Are Needed

While informal and short, written assessments can accomplish a lot, formal assessments are sometimes the only way to move forward. We see this most clearly in cases of board dysfunction

Donahue formally assessed one board where the written feedback was split between older and younger members. The younger members resented the older members’ extreme control of the board, while the older members resented the younger members’ silence and inaction.

Only through formal, on-site nonprofit board assessment did Donahue see the root issue. Both groups kept to themselves and didn’t interact, literally sitting on opposite sides of the boardroom. Because she was physically present as an outside consultant, she was positioned to point out the obvious dysfunction and led the board to a more harmonious relationship.

Simplify the Board Engagement Process

Assessing your nonprofit’s board is an essential task, even if it’s one that seems easy to skip. 

RELATED: The 3 Nonprofit Budgets You Need

Interested in how to make your board of directors more productive through the effective use of technology? Boardable is a software platform that centralizes all communication between you and your board. Find the best meeting times, securely store all of your documents, archive discussion threads and more—all in one board portal. Click below to schedule a demo with a member of our Boardable team.

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