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Why Board Self-Assessment is Worth the Effort

by Molly O'Connell

FlowerreflectionCreditKjunstormNonprofit boards have room for improvement and need to take time to reflect. According to  Leading with Intent, BoardSource’s most recent national index of nonprofit boards, boards are earning a B- average.  A key finding of the recently released Leadership New England study was that “The expectations and responsibilities of boards need to shift in favor of governance over fundraising to develop more capacity for organizations to achieve their goals.”

So, what next? One way to focus your board’s energy and attention on its own development is a board self-assessment process. As part of MANP’s Leadership Institute for New Executive Directors, participants recently engaged their boards in self-evaluation, so we asked them whether they’d recommend this process to others.

Their comments point to three key outcomes of this type of reflection process.

Board self-assessment fosters engagement

  • “The assessment itself is a sort of engagement.”
  • “It highlights areas of improvement and provides all board members an opportunity to meaningfully critique aspects of their board.”
  • “This provided us with some great ways in which we can improve board participation and understanding.”
  • “This gave me several ideas for improvements in board management.”

Board self-assessment points out ways to strengthen governance policies and procedures

  • It is an opportunity to get a glimpse into how the board views procedures.”
  • “It is critical for board members to understand each others’ perspectives on the organization, and the process illustrates what a board member is responsible for.”
  • “[We identified] many procedures that should be happening and can be easily implemented, and saw shortcomings that were not apparent to us.”
  • “[We now have] objective data that supports what I and many board members suspected.”
  • “This was very valuable in revealing knowledge gaps/oversights of the board.”

Board self-assessment informs and complements strategic planning

  • “It’s a helpful document for strategic planning.”
  • “[It was illuminated to hear] Other board members’ perspectives and insight into where we need to have conversations.”
  • “I can’t think of any other way to get all this info except by a survey like this and it gives invaluable info to direct/improve the board’s activity.”
  • “This forced us to think outside the box”

How Can You Get Started?

While a board self-assessment process is useful for many organizations, it is not appropriate in all cases. Is your board ready for self-assessment? This guide will help you decide, and gives an overview of what to expect from MANP’s board self-assessment tool, should you choose to use it.


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