Once Again: How Should Nonprofits Conduct Board Evaluations?
By: Eugene Fram
Recent (2017) data from BoardSource show that only about 58% of boards have had “formal, written self-assessment of board performance at some point. Only 40% of all boards have done an assessment in the past two Years,” a recommended practice. With the rapid turnover of directors that nonprofit boards traditionally experience, this seems inexcusable. As a “veteran” nonprofit director, following is what I think can be done to improve the situation.
Evaluate Board Processes
• Value of board materials: board book delivery time prior to meetings, material clarity, meeting notices, etc. Are board books delivered a week ahead of meetings?
• Stakeholder Relations: Board interactions with various nonprofit stakeholders groups, especially donors. To what extent do board members interact with key stakeholders? Are records available of these interactions to make certain they take place? Identify the directors that are most adept at building these relationships?
• Willingness to evaluate qualitative outcomes: (http://bit.ly/OvF4ri) To what extent are data developed that go beyond typical records such as accounting statements and membership records? Are more difficult data developed, such as brand image and impact on the community? Is hearsay evidence discarded in making major decisions?
• Composition of the board in regard to racial diversity, gender, skills, age, board experiences, etc.: Does the organization have a diversity/inclusive policy? Do current board members have sufficient prior board experiences in order to act as models for new members without prior board experience?
• Action plans: including a yearly review of board minutes that obligates the board to review accomplishments. (Lack of some actions may lead to board and/or organization liabilities.) Does the plan provide evidence of a robust CEO & organizational evaluation? Does the organization coordinate field accreditation processes with action plans?
Director Evaluation Approaches
As boards evolve, they can use:
• individual self-evaluations by each director;
• evaluating the board as a whole;
• peer-to-peer assessment,
• an independent third party to conduct the process & to advise on confidentially and to present a report.*
Coming from an academic background, in which the peer-to-peer process is strongly ingrained, I suggest a peer-to-peer blind review (source of individual comments not revealed to others) administered by an outside expert to advise on process and develop the report. The report needs to be supported by an assessment of how the board has succeeded in completing the required processes listed above.
*The last venue for evaluation has cost limitations
While I respect peer evaluation it cannot be the only method in the sector. Outside fully independent consultant engagement is necessary. There is far too much confirmation biase in conclusions based in peer to peer systems and not enough transparency. Next you will call for publishing requirements. Finally, peer systems are not future focused and tend to support individual status and status quo thinking. We must be open to developing a better nonprofit model for a new era.
Good point. Outside accrediting groups should evaluate the quality and impact of boards, but from my experiences with them, they rarely go that far, unless micromanagement or fraud may be involved.