Assessments for the Nonprofit Board – Q&A

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DANA ASKS: So the chair of development should sit on Committee on Trustees that recruits new board members. Can the Chair of Development (as a trustee on the board) set board expectations in terms of giving?   

BARBARA ANSWERS: Dana, the Committee on Trustees or Nominating Committee can include the following:

  • Current Chair of the Board
  • Immediate Past Chair of the Board                  Note succession planning here.
  • Incoming Chair of the Board
  • Chair of the Development Committee
  • 1-2 Board Members
  • Executive Director
  • Director of Development
  • Chief Financial Officer

This committee of leaders should review and finalize the Board nominations, interview, orientation and on-boarding processes. This would include Board expectations for attendance, giving, committee service and term limits.  As a committee of the Board any of their policy recommendations would have to be approved by the Board. It is important this group either includes all members of the Executive Committee or has a close working relationship – so when recommendations come before the Board – leadership is on board and consensus can be easily reached. In addition, if big changes are being contemplated – these items should be part of the Board agenda BEFORE the final recommendations are presented. This allows for ample discussion and buy-in by all Board members, as opposed to rubber stamping approval or hard fought conversations.

HOLLY ASKS: We have some destructive board members on our board but the remaining are too conflict adverse to ask them to leave.

DANA ASKS: Do you suggest taking time out of a Board meeting to do the assessment exercise? Or do you suggest it be sent out ahead of time?  

BARBARA ANSWERS: Holly and Dana, this is a common challenge for nonprofit Boards. Board members and staff must remember they are there to serve the mission of the organization through program service or advocacy based on community need – not personal agenda.  The process of individual and group assessment is very important and can help your Board enforce term limits – if you don’t have them or don’t enforce them, the Board needs to in order to better serve the organization. The assessment tools are included in the handouts and can be downloaded here. Sample assessments can be downloaded here.

The assessment process is objective and allows Board members to rank their personal service (not anonymously) as well as Board operations (anonymously).  Once the assessments have been received and reviewed the process should include the opportunity for individual conversations based on the assessment results – both individual and operations. Conversations between individual Board members can include the Executive Director, Board Chair and Chair of Nominations committee. These are opportunities to talk about organization vision, moving forward, Board expectations, next steps as a group and individually. If Board term limits are valid, this is a place to have the conversation about completing service and what that means or a forward look at what’s next when term limits are reached.  Again this is about engagement – not confrontation.

The assessment process should be conducted by the Board Secretary; sent out in between a Board meeting with a limited time frame (deadline) to complete. The assessment report should be ready for the next Board meeting.

You can also hang the organization mission on the wall of the Board meeting room and/or place it on the back of the name plates so everyone has it in front of them. When the conversation goes off track, an easy question from the Board Chair, “I want to bring this conversation back to the mission of the organization.” If the discussion has nothing to do with the mission – it should end the discussion or argument. Or suggest it continue off line and include the following people.

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