Ford Thompson provides a variety of tools to help nonprofit boards achieve greater clarity in discerning their own effectiveness.
Guaranteeing organizational accountability is a key role for any nonprofit board. On behalf of the public and the people or causes served, the board must effectively use organizational resources to serve the mission. Accordingly, just as the board holds the staff responsible for good management and program implementation, it must also hold itself accountable for the quality of the organization's governance. A board can utilize performance assessments to identify ways to strengthen its operations in service to the organization and its mission.
Board assessments serve many purposes -- some internal to the board and some in relation to other constituencies. A systematic assessment process will:
- Give individual board members an opportunity to reflect on their individual and corporate responsibilities.
- Identify different perceptions and opinions among board members.
- Point to questions that need board attention.
- Serve as a springboard for board improvements.
- Increase the level of board teamwork.
- Provide an opportunity for clarifying mutual board and staff expectations.
- Demonstrate to the staff and others that accountability is a serious organizational value.
- Provide credibility with funding sources and other external audiences.
- Review the level of transparency as addressed in recent IRS questions in completing form 990 for the most recent tax year.
A board assessment must be legitimate in the eyes of board members. The opinions of outsiders can be discounted, but what a board says about itself must be taken seriously. An assessment often prompts the board to modify its methods of operation. An assessment does not necessarily exclude input from other sources. The board may, for example, choose to ask the executive director and senior staff to provide feedback.
A full-scale assessment may be desirable only once every two or three years, with interim assessments conducted to monitor progress on objectives set after the last assessment. Times when an assessment may be particularly useful include
- At the outset of a strategic planning process
- In preparation for major expansion or capital campaign
- When there is a sense of low energy, high turnover, or uncertainty about board responsibilities
- After a financial or executive leadership crisis.
A properly conducted evaluation that is followed with appropriate action can have a profound impact upon a board. It can provide the impetus to move the board forward in dealing with difficult or complex issues. Board assessment often serves as a catalyst in discovering the root of governance problems and find lasting solutions that strengthen board performance.
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