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Board Self-Assessment
by Sandra Trice Gray

See the complete list of articles by Sandra Gray.

A little evaluation goes a long way toward improving the effectiveness of your entire organization.

A new study of board effectiveness, "The Effective Board of Trustees," funded by the Lilly Endowment and the U.S. Department of Education, finds that one key quality that distinguishes effective nonprofit governance is the capacity of the board to regularly evaluate its own performance. Board self-assessment can be a valuable learning tool that leads to greater achievement of an organization?s mission. It can take a variety of formats ? from soliciting feedback from the individual board members about the board?s performance as a body to evaluating the effectiveness of time spent together during board meetings.

Asking Questions

One technique that seems particularly suitable for board meetings is a simple questionnaire that members cam complete quickly at the end of each meeting while the experience is still fresh in mind. Here is a sample of the kinds of questions you can ask:

How effectively did we function as a body during this board meeting?

Using a scale of 5 (high) to 1 (low), circle your response to these items:

  1. Overall board meeting was effective.
  2. Agenda items were appropriate
  3. Agenda items encouraged reflection and inquiry.
  4. Agenda focused on key policy issues.
  5. Agenda focused on key-strategic areas.
  6. Rate each key strategic area with regard to the quality of the board?s discussion (on your evaluation, list each of the key strategic areas discussed). A rating of indicates that we focused on the policy dimension of issues or had a very strong discussion.
  7. Rate each key strategic area with regard to out comes (list the same key strategic areas). A rating of 5 indicates that specific and favorable outcomes were achieved from our discussion.

In addition, to leaving space for general comments, ask these questions:

What works best with regard to how we currently operate during our board meetings?

What is your best suggestion for further improving the efficiency of our meeting time?

Positive results can be achieved with regular use of this kind of self-assessment ? if feedback is shared and if it is treated as an opportunity to learn and improve. Evaluation will become an important tool for the board if it is incorporated into the broad?s regular activities and it encourages the board?s collective spirit and enthusiasm for continued excellence in mission achievement.

Setting an Example

By engaging in regular self-assessment, the board not only contributes toward its own effectiveness but also serves as an important stimulus for promoting and encouraging others throughout the organization to embrace processes that lead to improvement. For example, evaluation encourages staff members to:

  • provide learning reports from functional areas that give "why" explanations instead of simple progress reports that tell "what"
  • look for opportunities to collaborate across units to maximize efficiencies in the association?s activities; and celebrate team achievement when noticeable improvements are realized.

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