Walking the Talk: A Board Chair’s Perspective on Board Self-Assessment
This guest post was contributed by Douglas Woodbury, President of MANP’s Board of Directors.
As chair of the Maine Association of Nonprofits (MANP) Board of Directors I come in contact with many organizations who are struggling with the questions, “Can our board be more effective? Where do we start?”
While board development needs will vary widely from organization to organization, the starting point can be the same: a board self-assessment. In fact, BoardSource’s most recent Leading with Intent report concluded that “boards that assess their performance regularly perform better on core responsibilities.”
Organizational culture, the relationship between the board and executive director, board leadership, board member recruitment efforts, and board structure all play into board effectiveness. Working toward a more dynamic, passionate, and active board requires a clear understanding and acceptance of the roles and responsibilities of a nonprofit board and individual board members as well as a clear understanding of “best practices.”
Walking the Talk
This past summer the MANP board utilized the comprehensive Board Self-Assessment Tool MANP makes available to all nonprofits to guide our own process of improving how well our board functions in its governance role. The process helped us set an objective baseline for how we are currently functioning as a board and identify and prioritize steps for improvement. For example, the results showed that top areas for improvement included staff investment policies, such as training and compensation, board recruitment strategies to achieve appropriate board diversity, and board education around critical responsibilities, such as understanding financial statements.
Using the Results
At MANP we place a high priority on an effective committee structure and the priority areas that emerged from our self-assessment were assigned to appropriate board committees for action/implementation. The committees will work on the identified board improvement strategies relating to their area of responsibility over the course of the year, reporting on progress to the entire board at regular intervals.
All Boards Need Periodic Tune-Ups
Most nonprofit boards believe that they function at a relatively high level in support of their organizations. Our experience with board self-assessment demonstrated that while there were many strengths to celebrate, there were also gaps in understanding as well as some consensus around areas for improvement.
The Board Self-Assessment Tool and follow-up process has proved to be an efficient way for us to improve board performance. We no longer talk about improving board effectiveness in general, but instead have an action plan with targeted and realistic changes. And perhaps most importantly, the board has increased commitment to ongoing self-assessment and improvement in service to MANP’s mission.