As a part of a nonprofit board, you have the responsibility to your community to be an effective leader and steward of measurable, sustainable impact. Over the past decade, nonprofits have made remarkable strides in demonstrating impact to their stakeholders. In fact, our ability to effectively evaluate and measure our work has become the standard for success.

Even though most boards recognize that they are responsible for helping set the culture of performance evaluation within their organizations, surprisingly few have extended that culture to their own governance functions. So while many nonprofit boards do a great job assisting in the evaluation of their organization’s programming, few view the measure of leadership as a critical indicator of a nonprofit’s success and sustainability.

How Leadership Is a Sustainable Resource

Leadership has always been an important link to a nonprofit’s success and its community model, and in this way, nonprofits serve as drivers of leadership in our communities. However, leadership is not simply something an organization comes by, nor is it a static quality that once developed stays forever. Leadership is a dynamic resource in need of continual development, management, and continuous quality improvement, and the best boards understand this responsibility. As such, assessing the performance of a board is the hallmark of a truly sustainable organizational model.

Where Routine Board Assessments Comes In

Regular assessments not only evaluate a board’s effectiveness and progress but also demonstrate to all stakeholders that a board has embraced its role in creating an organizational culture of performance evaluation and accountability within all areas. Boards have an inherent responsibility to continually identify their strengths and areas of needed improvement. Self assessment helps ensure this is accomplished and that your most important resource -- leadership-- continues to match your nonprofit’s mission, programming, and vision for the future.

Assessment As a Tool for Board Engagement

Board assessment can also serve as an effective tool for engagement and capacity building by providing focus and the opportunity of setting priorities while keeping boards focused on their appropriate roles and responsibilities.

If self assessment is so critical, why don’t more organizations do it? Like all things in the social sector, resources are limited, time is a commodity, and engagement is inconsistent. Ironically, these are the very reasons why we focus on metrics in our program models as a means to overcome our challenges and demonstrate our commitment to excellence.

Assessment, A Long-Term strategy

Board assessment is part of a long term strategic approach for improving and sustaining leadership in an organization. Like all leadership development, it should be done regularly and incorporated in every strategic plan. There are many tools available, but assessments should cover all areas of good governance, including demographics, legal and financial compliance, a review of board practices, strategic planning, funding, and communications. Questions in an assessment should be designed to collect constructive data points. Some open ended questions for extra detail are important, but remember that in all evaluation, even the most compelling qualitative information is best presented with real data.

Best Practices for Effective Assessments

And there should be some standardized process that allows a board to see change in performance from year to year. Don’t skip the topics you excel at, and never ignore the challenging questions in the effort of saving time or not “rocking the boat.” Our communities’ greatest challenges are complex and systemic and therefore require collective approaches to solving them. In the upcoming GrantSpace webinar on December 13, Maximize Impact through Board Accountability, I will explore strategies that you can utilize to implement board assessment as part of not only your short-term goals but as an integral facet of your long-term strategy of leadership development that should ideally be multi-generational, meaning it spans numerous board terms. Register for the webinar today!

About the Author(s)

Gilles Mesrobian Senior Associate Support Center View Bio

Topic(s) Governance Boards

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