Nonprofit Board of Directors
Self Assessment Tool
Best Practices

Mission and Strategy
1. Understands the Mission and Vision of the organization
Do you have clear and concise Vision and Mission statements? A powerful Vision is usually short enough to be memorized. When was the last time it was updated? Be sure it is included in all you marketing materials including your web site, brochures, posters and letter head. Some organizations include it on their business cards.
Be sure to discuss your Vision and Mission every time the board is asked to make an important decision on things such as investments or changes in services and staffing. The Vision and Mission is the context for making important decisions about the future of the organization.
2. Able to properly represent the organization to the local community
This is often a bigger issue with newer board members. Do you have a proper orientation program for new board members. It is a good idea to ask experienced board members to also participate and share their perspectives and experiences. Some organizations have a follow up to the orientation after six months when the new board members have been to a couple of board meeting. Other ideas include having the board president host an informal lunch for new board members and encourage their questions and input.
3. Has an active role in developing annual goals and objectives of the organization
Annual goal setting can be related to the development of the budget. Budgets are often presented to the board for approval but with little discussion. The budget process can be used to set goals for fundraising and for the amount of service to be delivered. Begin the budget process early enough to discuss it at one or two meetings prior to approval.
Goal setting can also be linked to developing annual goals for the executive director as part of the annual performance review process. The Executive Director should begin each year with a clear set of goals negotiated with the Executive Committee and approved by the board. At the end of the year, ED is evaluated on how well the goals were met. This serves as the bases for changes in compensation.
4. Has an active role a developing a long-term strategic plan
Do you have a formal/written strategic plan? Is it part of your orientation program for new board members? When was it developed or last updated? Even a long-term plan needs to be updated every two or three years. Remember, in three years you may have as many as six or eight new board members. The strategic plan is the best opportunity to get buy in and ownership from the board.
General Knowledge
5. Familiar with the challenges of the non-profit environment
How do you stay informed about what is happening in the nonprofit community? Are you and key staff members of professional associations and networks? Do you volunteer and participate in other organizations and counsels? Consider including community issues and trends on the agenda of your board meeting. Ask a board member that you know serves on many boards to share his or her opinions on noted trends. You may also use email to update board members on current events. Sharing short articles is also a way to educate your board.
6. Active in other charitable or community organizations
Target some experienced board members in your board recruiting process. Make sure they have the time to devote to your organization and are not spread too thin across too many commitments.
7. Organization takes full advantage of skills and experience
Do you have an inventory of board member skills and interests? Many organizations collect profile information on all their board members including, where they work, other boards they serve on, and degrees or certifications. They also ask how the board member would like to contribute to the organization.
An active committee structure is the best way to get board members involved in the organization. Board members can be match to the committee that benefits from their skills and fits with their preferences. Larger boards (25+ members) benefit most from a well organized committee structure. Board meetings are too short and infrequent to fully leverage the skill and talents of individual members.
Agency Knowledge
8. Has adequate knowledge of all the organization's major programs and services
How does your board learn about the programs and services? Some portion of the board meeting should be devoted to education. This is also an excellent opportunity for some of the staff to be exposed to the board by allowing them to explain the services and share success stories. Sometimes client are also asked to come in and share their experiences with the board. This can be a very powerful way to educate the board on an intellectual and emotional level.
Another way to educate the board is through volunteering. Encourage the board to pitch in at certain times in selected programs. Find ways to have them come in contact with the clients you serve. Years from now they will still remember the day they rolled up their sleeves and made a difference in someone's life.
9. Is familiar with the financial status of the organization
Most organizations pass out financial statements at every board meeting and ask "Any questions?" Many board members are not CPAs and would rather hear fingernails on a chalkboard than dig into financial statements. An alternative is to use a Financial Dashboard to summarize key pieces of financial information into a small number of graphs that highlight key measures and trends. A graph that compares the actual to budget for revenue and expenses is easier to understand than a three page income statement.
10. Have the experience and skills necessary to lead the organization
How deliberate is your board recruiting process? Do you have a nominating committee responsible for identifying potential board members? The nominating committee should be familiar with the current board and the gaps that should be filled to better support the organization's success. They can then target specific individuals to meet the needs of the organization.
You should also have an internal board leadership succession process. The committee chairman positions is the first place to look for future leaders. Some organizations include committee chairs in the executive committee. Board officers are usually selected from the committee chairs that have demonstrated leadership and a commitment to the organization. One of the officer positions (usually the Vice President) is designated at the President Elect position. The Immediate Past President position is also an officer and remains on the executive committee. With this system, the board president will have served for several years with increasing levels of responsibility before assuming the leadership role.
Board development should also be part of the equation. Many organizations set aside one board development day each year to educate and develop the knowledge and skills need to move the organization forward. This can also be combined with strategic planning.
11. Informed about the issues that are important to the organization
A review or update of the strategic plan is the best way to identify the issues and set priorities for the organization. A simple SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) and be done in about an hour and can build a consensus on the issues to be addressed.
Roles and Responsibilities
12. Supports the organization through personal or corporate contributions
Do you have a board giving policy? Most organizations these days strive for 100% participation by the board in an annual contribution program. Some organizations set a minimum while others leave it up to the individual to decide. One of the approaches that is becoming popular is the annual "Give or Get" commitment. The board member is asked to give or help raise and minimum amount each year. Those without the means can use their network to raise money while others can simply make a contribution.
The key to success is to set the expectation with the board member before they are elected to the board. This is part of the screening that the nomination committee should do with each new board candidate. The fundraising expectation should be communicated and the candidate should consider their commitment before accepting the nomination.
13. Is aware of the roles and responsibilities of the board
Do you have a written job description for board members? A written job description should spell out role and expectation of the board member. This should be shared during the orientation process but all board members should be reminded on their responsibilities at least once a year.
14. Understands the differences between the responsibilities of the board and staff
A clear job description should help reduce any confusion over the different responsibilities of board and staff. When this is a problem it is usually because the board president and the executive director are not working well as a team. The board will take its lead from the president. If the president is attempting to micro manage the executive director, the board will also be pulled into operational issues. A professional relationship with good communication and trust will greatly reduce the likelihood of too much overlap.
The second major cause of the board functioning at the operational level is a lack of strategic direction on which they can focus. If you don't give the board something of significance to focus on, they will start looking for things to do and usually end up much too involved in program design or delivery.
15. Takes care to avoid conflicts of interest
Every organization should have a conflict of interest policy. This policy should be reviewed and shared each year. It is common to have each board member sign the policy as an indication of their commitment to follow it. When conflicts of interests are identified, they are shared with the board and a procedure for handling them is agreed to. These conflicts are usually noted in the minutes. The two issues with conflict of interest are transparency and documentation.
16. Plays an active role in raising funds to support the organization
If the role of the board includes fundraising, then you must design fundraising activities that are appropriate for your organization and the board you have in place. These activities range from the easiest which might include selling something (tickets, gift baskets) to more difficult one-on-one high dollar requests for support. A fundraising committee comprised of a cross section of your board will help you identify fundraising activities that your board can support. The committee and also provide peer-to-peer encouragement to the board to participate. For the more difficult tasks, you may consider pairing the more experienced board members with the less experienced.
17. Participates in established committees
Most boards meet once a month for about an hour. If you block out Summer and the Christmas holidays, you are left with about eight meetings a year. An active committee structure is the best way to get individual board members more engaged in the organization. Common committees include, Finance, Fundraising, Programs, Governance and Volunteers. The Executive committee provides a coordinating function and often includes the chairs of the other committees and the board officers. Committees can meet as often as necessary. Conference calls are common. One of the benefits of committees is that it helps to build stronger relationships among the board members that can not be accomplished during the limited number of regular board meetings.
18. Demonstrates support through attendance at board meetings and other events
Do you have a board attendance policy? It is common to limit the number of absences per year. Most organizations allow "excused" absences. This is often defined as having provided advanced notice. Attendance is tracked and members who were often absent are sometimes asked to step down from the board. If not, they are not asked to return at the end of their term.
19. Follows through on commitments made to the organization
Accountability is always a challenge in a volunteer board. This can be improved if you manage a follow up process. Depending on the nature of the commitments, committee chairs may need to provide the follow up. The board president should be engaged in helping to hold board members accountable. The Executive Director can also be actively involved in communicating and following up with board members.
20. Participates in the process of selecting and developing board leadership
There is a temptation to draw on our friends for candidates to serve on the board. There is also a tendency to rely heavily on the Executive Director's relationships for candidates. Some boards are more of a social activity than a community responsibility. Sometimes, the result is a board that wants to get along and doesn't what to question or debate the issues and options. A nominating committee is designed to help avoid this problem. The committee's responsibility is to define the skills and experience needed on the board and share this with the other board members. Suggestions for board members should be based on the identified needs. Once the candidates are identified and prioritized, the nominating committee need coordinates the recruiting process.