Who Evaluates the Board?

After reading my blog, Hassan emailed to ask “Who evaluates the Board?”  He went on to talk about Boards in his country—making me realize (again) how very small and similar the world truly is. “In Pakistan,” my reader wrote, “board members are considered volunteers, they (board members in most cases and otherwise the management) limit their roles to receiving updates and reports or in other words what you have been pointing out ‘they hear what we (management) want them to hear’.

“ When it comes to who should evaluate board, there is another problem;  most board do not set any concrete targets for themselves.” So what they should be evaluated against?”

Great questions.  And you know I have some answers.

Basically, the Board self-evaluates.  There are a number of "tools" out there that can help the Board to assess their performance and identify where they need to improve.  I strongly recommend both a group process and an individual one.  That is, an evaluation for the entire board done by the entire board, and then a self-evaluation of each individual on the Board.  Once these are filled in, I recommend that at least half a Board meeting be dedicated to these evaluations. Oftentimes--and always if there are glaring problems--it is helpful to have an outside facilitator for these sessions.

A Board Development committee is useful for this process, as they would be the people charged with leading this annual process.  The Board Development committee is usually the same as the Nominating committee charged with finding and recommending new Board members.  This process should help to ensure that you are bringing good people on in the first place.

Hassan’s question about what it is that the Board gets evaluated against is truly THE question that we must all ask.   It is the first and most important step to creating a truly successful nonprofit.

Leadership (both Board and staff) must convene and decide what it is that you are expecting from the Board and you must convey that to the Board.  Write a job description for Board members with overall responsibilities.  Each year review what the organization must accomplish and add to that job description the Board's role in that this coming year.

At the first Board meeting each year, have the Board review the job description and approve it (with any necessary changes).  Use this description when you cultivate and solicit Board members.  Make sure they understand their responsibilities.  And above all, enforce this--if a Board member is not meeting his or her responsibilities, the first step is that the Chair of the Board Development committee or the Board Chair should speak to that member.  If nothing changes, then the committee recommends to the Board that this person be terminated from the Board.

Yes, Board members are volunteers, but in many ways they are also (unpaid) staff, and like anyone working for an organization, you must fulfill your responsibilities.

As management, our job is to guide the Board to set these standards and to keep to them.

Unless we hold high expectations for our Board members who are, after all, the people responsible for the welfare of the organization, we cannot succeed as nonprofits and we certainly cannot move our missions forward.

Janet Levine is a trainer and consultant.  Learn about her services and classes at http://janetlevineconsulting.com