Could your board be better? Probably so! The first step in improving your board is raising awareness about how the board is doing now and then compare that to what truly effective boards do. This can be accomplished by doing a good board assessment.

There are some board assessment mistakes I’ve seen nonprofits make that can easily be avoided.

Mistake #1: Introductions
A good board assessment survey is designed to address several areas of board functioning (meeting management, recruitment and orientation, strategic planning etc.) The problem I’ve seen is that the survey includes some introductory statements about what Boards should be doing in each area. Not only is this overly prescriptive, it biases the results from the get-go.

Imagine you’re a board member having just read about what you should be doing, and then needing to rate how you and your board are doing? Our inclination is to judge a group we’re a member of as favorably as possible even when acknowledging weaknesses.

That’s natural. So, you’re likely to rate your board as performing more like what it should be doing than how it is. As a result, your assessment will be inaccurate.

Mistake #2: Rating Scale
The second mistake nonprofits make when assessing their boards, is selecting a survey or tool with a bad rating scale. Examples include using words like these: Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Neutral, Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory, Needs Improvement etc. How can you ensure that a “Fair” rating, for example, means the same thing to all the board members?

You can’t—making the assessment inaccurate. What should you do instead?

Use a behavioral frequency rating such as Often, Sometimes, Rarely, etc. This kind of rating scale asks each board member to describe his/her experience of the board. This will give you a more valid measure how the board actually “behaves.”

Mistake #3: Open-ended questions
Open-ended questions are an important part of any board assessment, but they can lead a board to draw inaccurate conclusions. When board members read individual comments (even when they are anonymously given), they naturally gravitate to the negative and/or outlier comments.

Nonprofits want people to get along and have a good experience working together. If someone is unhappy, we naturally want to make it better or fix it. This underlies the focus on negative assessment comments.

On some boards, even if members don’t focus on fixing it, they’re defensive about it. In any case, when you’re analyzing answers to open-ended questions for the results to be legitimate you must not report comments/ideas that are not representative. By that I mean, look for the themes that emerge as a result of several board members expressing similar points or ideas.

It’s not hard to avoid these mistakes, especially now that you’re aware of them. If you would like to discuss how to approach assessing your board, or anything else about your board or leadership, sign up for a free, 30 minute consultation with me I’d love to help!

All the best!


PS  What are your experiences with Board Assessment? Tell us below.