Are We Doing a Good Job?

Board Café

Are We Doing a Good Job?

The Electronic Newsletter Exclusively for Members of Nonprofit Boards of Directors

Short enough to read over a cup of coffee, the Board Café offers a menu of ideas, information, opinion, news, and resources to help board members give and get the most out of board service. Co-published by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services (formerly the Support Center for Nonprofit Management) and the National Center for Nonprofit Boards. Chef / Writer: Jan Masaoka. May 18, 2000. Vol. 4, No. 5., .


Every month we get dozens of letters from Board Café subscribers--board presidents of swim teams and art museums, board members of homeless shelters and social action organizations, executive directors of education funds, historic gardens and Girl Scout councils . . . many of the ideas for the "appetizers" and "main courses" come from your letters. This rainy spring makes me grateful for the warmth, optimism, and determination of nonprofit board members across all our communities. - Jan Masaoka



Here's an effective and gracious idea from the Milo Baker Chapter of the California Native Plant Society: "A useful job for someone who is new, wants to get to know chapter members, and is looking for an easy, low-risk way to become involved: We need one or more volunteers to arrive at the Center an hour before each monthly meeting. You arrange the chairs and set up the projector (someone will show you how). At the end of the meeting, you make sure all the chairs are put back where they came from--people are good at helping out with this part--and make sure the projector gets put away. This job has a really impressive name--Chair Chair." Thanks, Ellen Davenport!


New research from the National Center for Nonprofit Boards shows that the average number of board members is 19, and the median size is 17. These numbers are exactly what they were in the 1997 study. While we at Board Café would like to see smaller boards, we've heard impassioned arguments from both sides. A larger board (the largest in NCNB's study included 95 members) allows a wide cross-section of constituencies to be represented on the board. A larger board may have more people and more connections to raise money and may allow for more working committees. In most very large boards, an Executive Committee becomes the decision-making and governing body-a development that some people feel is fine, but others view as an argument against large boards.

A smaller board, in contrast, can be easier to work on - it's easier to make a decision among three people than 30. Members of a smaller board can get to know each other more quickly and form more effective working relationships because of close communication. If meeting at your organization's site is an important way to keep members in touch with the programs, don't forget to limit the board's size to what will fit into your conference room. A smaller board requires fewer staff to support its work, and so more board members may be able to have strong relationships with the staff management. Although there are fewer hands to do the work, a smaller board may create a stronger sense of ownership and responsibility among the board members. On the other hand, if three people leave a small board, the board's continuity is sharply threatened. Everything else being equal, I'm more likely to join a small board than a large one, what about you?


Because the Board Café is free, it's easy to give "gift subscriptions" to others. Send along this issue to them, and point out this paragraph: you can subscribe by going to , by sending email to, or by sending us your fax number to 415-541-7708.

Now for this month's "Main Course" at the Board Café:


by Jan Masaoka


At a regular physical check-up, the doctor may ask the patient, "How are you feeling?" The answer is important. Although some patients may feel well but have a hidden disease, the patient's own sense of well being is an important indicator. In a similar way, when a board asks itself, "How do we feel about our board and our organization?" the answer is an important indicator, if not an error-proof test. We suggest an annual poll of board members to get a sense of how the board is doing. There are many such surveys, but here's a short one you can try. Give board members a scale to choose from for each answer, such as 1 - 5 , with 1 being Very Unsatisfied and 5 being Very Satisfied. You might also ask your executive director (and other staff who frequently work with the board) to fill out a similar survey, and then use the results of both to kick off a discussion where people reflect on the survey results and establish objectives for the year about board activities.


  1. Understands and can convey the organization's mission and purpose?
  2. Is confident that the organization is in compliance with federal, state and local regulations?
  3. Has procedures that report that government contract obligations are fulfilled?
  4. Has a strategic vision for the organization?
  5. Knows enough about the organization's programs and services?
  6. Monitors and evaluates the performance of the executive director on a regular basis?
  7. Provides financial oversight for the organization, including approving a realistic budget?
  8. Monitors financial performance and projections on a regular basis?
  9. Has adopted a fundraising strategy and reflects on its successes?
  10. Has a clear policy on the responsibilities of board members in fundraising?
  11. Acts as ambassadors to the community on behalf of the organization and its clients/patrons?
  12. Understands the role that volunteers play in the organization and the organization's philosophy of volunteer management?
  13. Appreciates the respective roles of the board and staff?
  14. Currently contains an appropriate range of expertise and diversity to make it an effective governing body?
  15. Effectively involves board members in board activities and responsibilities?
  16. Periodically assesses our own performance as a board?

A related article from the Board Café on "360 Degree Evaluation of the Agency" can be found on our website- -under "Board Meetings, Board Packets, Tools", or go directly to the article. (You can also send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to CompassPoint at the San Francisco address in the footer below to have a copy mailed to you.)

For a more comprehensive board self-assessment, the National Center for Nonprofit Boards publishes the "Self Assessment for Nonprofit Governing Boards Kit," which includes a user's guide and fifteen 20-page questionnaires, $169.00 for non-members and $126.75 for members; available at 1-800-883-6262 or


You are reading the BOARD CAFÉ, published monthly by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services (formerly the Support Center for Nonprofit Management) and the National Center for Nonprofit Boards. CompassPoint: 706 Mission Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103; (phone) 415-541-9000; (fax) 415-541-7708; Silicon Valley office: 1922 The Alameda, San Jose, CA 95126; (phone) 408-248-9505; (fax) 408-248-9504; (e-mail) , (website) . National Center for Nonprofit Boards: 1828 L Street NW, Ste. 900 , Washington, D.C. 202-452-6262 email ; website We welcome your comments and contributions to the BOARD CAFÉ.

If you would like your own free fax subscription to the BOARD CAFÉ, contact the Board Café at any of the numbers listed above. If you would like to have the BOARD CAFÉ delivered to you free via electronic mail, send an e-mail message to and in the body of the message type SUBSCRIBE BOARD CAFE. To unsubscribe to the BOARD CAFÉ, type UNSUBSCRIBE BOARD CAFE in the body of the message, or fax your request to 415-541-7708. The Board Café's e-mail/fax list is not rented, exchanged, or given to any other entity.

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