Nonprofit Board Assessment Questions You Need to Ask
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by Wayne Elsey
Nonprofits, like society, have experienced a lot this year. Our team at our shoe drive fundraising social enterprise has spent countless hours on the phone speaking to nonprofits, schools, faith-based groups and others about the need for fundraising revenue.
Unfortunately, if you pay even a little bit of attention to the social media threads, you see that some nonprofits have cut workers' hours or even jobs. In other instances, we've learned about nonprofit team members quitting because the uncertainty was too much. And something that we've also seen is that more than a handful of nonprofits have decided to focus on next year and have all but assumed there's nothing they could do this year.
Of course, we know that's a mistake. Nothing ever stays the same, and organizations that prepare — now — will be better positioned to expand their work in the coming months and years. After the 2008 economic decline, donors retrenched, and the organizations that got support were those who had a clear vision, plan and were taking action.
If you speak to managers, you get the sense that many are evaluating their team members. While that's all well and good, the same should hold for board members. As we know, there is a perception, accurate or not, that many nonprofit boards operate with lots of dysfunction. And while your organization's board may not be, this is an excellent time to ensure you have the best nonprofit leaders on your board.
In short, just as you want to make sure that your management and the rest of your team are the champions you need them to be, you also want to make sure that you have an A-team at the board level. From a practical standpoint, you want people who are dedicated and passionate about your cause. Furthermore, and most importantly, you want to have on your board people who are team players and can deliver your nonprofit the resources it needs.
Create a Board Assessment to Gain Better Insights
Again, you want team players, including at the board level. During times of crisis or significant changes, it's an excellent time to assess and take everyone's pulse, including the board of directors. Therefore, consider calling a special meeting or tying a board assessment with your annual meeting. This exercise aims to survey the board to understand if there are any holes or changes necessary. It also informs of your strengths and where it can lean into recoup anything lost in 2020.
By asking the following questions in a board assessment, you will gain valuable insights and clarity, so you could move forward more strategically. Moreover, you may even find that some people who may have been tertiary board members will ask to leave. As a result of the assessment, they will self-select to remove themselves, providing you with an opportunity to recruit people you need right now. So let's take a look at the key questions you want to ask for your board assessment:
- Do you remain as committed today to the organization's mission as when you first joined the board? Why or why not?
- Do you feel that you've contributed meaningfully (e.g. time, talent, treasure) to the nonprofit, and if not, what more do you think you could do?
- Does the nonprofit executive team keep you informed about everything that impacts the organization to ensure you probably do your function as a board member (e.g. finance, fundraising, programs)?
- Are you able to regularly attend the board meetings, and do you find them productive and informative? Why or why not?
- How do you think the nonprofit has performed during the most recent crisis (including the pandemic and economic downturn)? What, if anything, should be improved?
- In your estimation, does the board of directors perform well, including the committees and team members, in collaboration with management? Why or why not?
- Do you know others who might be interested in supporting or getting to know the organization because of their interest in the mission?
- What is one thing that the board of directors should consider improving on to better serve the nonprofit?
- What is one particular activity that the nonprofit should consider implementing or discussing as an idea to serve its community better?
- Is there anything that has not been asked in this board assessment that would be of interest to understand the board of directors or the organization?
If you decide to do a board assessment, use these questions and add others that may be more pertinent to your group. If your board prefers, make the answers anonymous so that people could be forthright with their explanations. Ultimately, the information you gather will give you great insights and help you get to where you need to go to improve your performance and position your organization for better days ahead.