Online Assessment of Your Board’s Performance – Simple, Effective and Inexpensive

Chris F Jones MBA FCMC is a Certified Management Consultant and teaches financial management in non-profit organisations to mid-career MA students at Royal Roads University, Victoria BC, and at the Justice Institute of British Columbia, New Westminster BC.   

Non-profit boards are increasingly looking for evaluations of their own effectiveness. They regard evaluation as an important component of accountability to their members and their stakeholders, as well as for their own edification.

Many larger organisations have their own board assessment processes, but fewer smaller ones do. Where do you start to evaluate your board’s effectiveness? Do you do it yourself? What questions would you ask? Do you hire an expensive consultant or a professional evaluator? Is it a complex and unwieldy process?

I was recently asked these very questions by the new Chair of a province-wide non-profit. He didn’t have any major concerns, but it was expanding rapidly, he wanted an overview of the board’s performance, and he didn’t want to spend much money.

I could have drawn up a series of effectiveness criteria and measures, interviewed each board member and surveyed their membership. I might also have suggested a facilitated evaluation session. But their board members were located all over the province and their regular members had been surveyed recently on other issues and they didn’t want to add to their “survey fatigue”.

I asked a friend of mine whom I knew used online effectiveness tools in US government clients and private businesses. “Is there a version specifically for non-profit boards?” I asked him. “Yes, there is” he said, “and it’s widely used”.

The tool assesses eight components of a non-profit board’s performance – board composition, CEO compensation and oversight, strategic planning, board procedures, board interaction, board information, board committees and overall board and CEO effectiveness. Board members themselves evaluate their own performance as a team through an online survey. 

The survey also asks them to rank these eight components in order of their importance to the organisation. Performance can then be related to the degree of impact on the organisation and any required remediation can be focussed. A business advisor administers the assessment online and provides his/her interpretations and observations in a short report based on the survey results. 

Above all, it demands little of the board members (about 20 minutes of their time online and some careful thought); it is very reasonably priced; and it is quick – the results are available for board discussion the day after the last member has completed the online survey. 

My friend implemented the process and was delighted with the results. As well as the assessment itself, the report identified some important gaps in key areas of effectiveness. 

Now they have a game-plan for improvements; a current baseline of the board's performance for future comparison; a measure of the alignment among board members; and a basis for an educational program for board members' continuing education. They also comply with their organisation’s self-imposed requirement for board assessment. 

If you would like to know more about the online evaluation of your board’s effectiveness, please contact the author at chrisfjones@shaw.ca. I’ll be happy to send you a sample report.