This past couple of years have been out-of-the-ordinary. Or maybe have presented us with a new normal (or most probably some of both). Either way, the board as well as the management of your center have had to navigate new policies, new funding, new partnerships, new human resources dilemmas.
Some of you have put the long range, visionary work of the board on hold while navigating this pandemic. This may include strategic planning, a topic we will address in a future post. There is a step before jumping back into planning, though, that I would like to suggest. That step is for the board to evaluate itself. Why? you might ask?
Ann Lehman, in a recent post on Blue Avocado gave these four reasons why your board should evaluate itself:
Peak Performance. Conducting a self-evaluation and assessment for the board is similar to evaluating the performance of a top executive: You start with a job description and conduct a periodic performance evaluation against that description.
Boards are no different—the best boards continue to build on what they are doing well and develop in areas that need strengthening to reach peak performance. Boards that regularly self-assess are also more likely to evaluate the executive director. Additionally, self-evaluation increases the likelihood that meaningful strategic planning occurs, and even fundraising improves. See Leading with Intent: BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practices (Washington, D.C.) BoardSource, 2021.
- Education. Developing the criteria for the board to evaluate itself also forces boards to think about what it is they are doing or should be doing now that the pandemic is receding. What are your board’s benchmarks for success?
As part of this, now is the time for all nonprofits to examine their relationship with racial, ethnic, and gender issues. Has the board been through an examination of its diversity practices? Has it examined its relationship with racial equity? Do the board members reflect the diversity of the community it serves?
What are the board’s responsibilities? What are the fiduciary, managerial, or fundraising roles? Do the agendas and meetings focus on important strategic and generative issues rather than mundane reports? Does fundraising capacity need to improve?
The process of developing questions and indicators for board evaluation helps the board identify its standards for top performance.
- Energize and Build Your Team. We sometimes hear board members complain that they do too much listening and not enough participating in leading the organization. Developing and doing the self-evaluation and assessment process is an active step that often energizes the entire board.
Promoting honest conversations around these topics gets them out in the open without any hidden agendas. In these times of authentic discussion about racial equity, has the board done any self-examination? It helps build the board members’ trust and relationships with each other. For example, the board members’ lack of participation in fundraising efforts would be easier to discuss through this assessment model; if done in a constructive rather than a critical manner, it can move the dialogue forward on a broad range of issues.
- Create a Roadmap. The assessment results will point to strengths, such as fiduciary or financial knowledge among board members or a dynamic committee structure that can become building blocks for new endeavors.
It will also help the board determine what needs further development or training (e.g., diversity, planning, fundraising, recruitment governance, all come to mind). Assessment helps with better recruitment and orientation in the future, as well as building self-assessment into an ongoing part of the boards process. All of these outcomes can help build the boards’ goals and objectives for the coming year, and you can set time aside at a retreat to discuss, train, or further develop operations.
It is worth noting that an evaluation at a time of crisis may not be appropriate, but if the situation has passed or at least is not at its peak, this would be an opportunity to start to address the issues raised. If you have just added or are about to add new members, an assessment can be an excellent introduction to what it means to be an influential board member today.
Self-assessment and evaluation are worthwhile and critical components to ensure your board is functioning at its highest level and working to accomplish its mission. It may result in board training (an overlooked area) or some focus or action (review by-laws, create fundraising committee, research executive compensation etc.).
Next time: Tools for board self-assessment.