How Boards Evaluate Themselves

The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) has in recent years conducted several significant survey on association governance. In this post I review a valuable one on how boards evaluate themselves. Here’s a quick summary of the findings.

First, board size is often a key indicator of success. Smaller boards are, generally speaking, happier boards. The tipping point is 20 members. If you have more than that, you have a challenge ahead of you.

And there are other factors that typically predict whether board members will be satisfied with their time as directors:

  1. Board minutes are taken and documented. (This is routine for REM clients. You’d be surprised how many nonprofits are less than diligent on this point, especially with chapters.)
  2. The attendance policy is enforced. If they don’t attend, they need to go.
  3. The leadership fosters an environment that builds trust and response. That means ensuring everyone has the chance to talk.
  4. Create and follow policies, from financials to personnel to emergency preparedness.
  5. Term limits are enforced. In many organizations, the more someone serves on a board, the less valuable their contribution. But more importantly, everyone must be treated the same.

On that last point, we continue to see board members who have the best intentions overstay their welcome. The result is usually one of two things: they become a quiet nonparticipant, or they get angry that the group doesn’t defer to their judgement or automatically accept every one of their recommendations.

The study also shows five areas where most boards need improvement:

  1. planning for the absence or departure of the CEO,
  2. identifying and cultivating new board members,
  3. identifying standards against which the board will measure the organization’s performance,
  4. examining the board’s current composition and identifying gaps, and
  5. measuring the effectiveness of critical programs and initiatives.

So, how’s your board doing? Do you see opportunities for improvement? Are your directors happy with the way your group is functioning? It’s a question worth asking. Your board chair may want to contact each board member privately, or use an online or paper survey at the end of each meeting. But ask.

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