The obvious reason to conduct a self assessment is to step back and identify areas where the board might need to correct weaknesses or oversights. But a self assessment can also spark a broader conversation about the board, its practices, and its potential.
Unless a board already does an annual self assessment—which should be standard practice—we insert one at the outset of a strategic planning process. It is important to have trustees reflect about their own role (as a board and as individuals) before attempting to evaluate the organization as a whole.
There are many board self assessment tools. BoardSource offers one that is predictably thorough, and it can be customized to some extent. I have found it especially useful for independent schools, since the National Association of Independent Schools offers comparative data for a substantial pool of prior users.
For relatively new organizations, or ones with particular issues, though, it can be better to come up with a far more individualized instrument. The focus and questions may vary, but the categories, typically, are:
- Fiscal oversight
- Board operations and policies
- Oversight of the organization
- Other considerations
- Individual self assessment
Even for a small group, the most efficient and effective way to conduct the assessment is through an online survey tool. Online tools such as SurveyMonkey (which is the one that I use, but I’m sure there are others equally good) offers easy access for the responders and aggregation for analysis.
As with any good nonprofit stakeholder survey, the assessment plays multiple roles:
- It educates and informs by means of the questions it asks and the context in which it puts them.
- It leads the responder to reflect about issues and roles in new ways.
- It produces valuable information about conditions, perceptions, attitudes and intentions.
Used wisely, a self assessment can lead directly to productive change.We’ll look at self assessments in our upcoming Wednesday Webinar on nonprofit governance.
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