Self Assessment for the Board

Board Café

Self Assessment for the Board

One of my co-workers was just diagnosed with breast cancer.  Among the many other thoughts this has raised for me is the realization of how much nonprofits have done in medical research, in support for people who are ill and their families, in bringing attention to women’s health care, and in advocating against the environmental and other causes of breast cancer.  Sometimes we think about nonprofits as helping OTHERS.  We should also remember that all of us are among those who other people at other nonprofits have helped.  

Is your board effective?  In my role as a board member of an Asian health organization, I’m not always sure how to answer that question, and I certainly wonder what other board members think.  This issue of the Board Café includes a self-assessment survey that you can modify and pass out to board members—the results are sure to spark a good discussion.      –Jan Masaoka   

 When is the last time the board was face-to-face with a few of the clients, patrons, members, or other direct beneficiaries of your organization?  Consider a 20-minute session at an upcoming board meeting—perhaps have a presentation by a staff member who is a former client of your alcohol abuse organization, discussing his involvement as a client as well as what he does now.  Or ask three season ticket holders to come talk to the board about what they liked and didn’t like about the last theatre or dance season.  Or have a doctor and one of her patients come to discuss how they worked together.  A talk-show like format will help some visitors feel more at ease about talking than a presentation.  

If your organization is considering a merger, this new guide can be helpful: it reviews the situations in which nonprofits merge, reasons why and why not to merge, and a step-by-step process and worksheets for investigating and then merging. Outside California, $16.50 (including shipping); inside California, $17.52 (including shipping and tax) at or send check to CompassPoint at 731 Market Street, Suite 200, San Francisco, CA 94103.  

This issues "Main Course" article:

At a regular physical check-up, the doctor may begin by asking 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 still 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 a useful indicator, if not an error-proof test.  An annual poll of board members lets the board get a sense of how its members feel. 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 Not Confident and 5 being Very Confident. 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.

Please rate your assessment of the Board of Directors’ performance on a scale of 1 – 5, with 1 = Not At All Confident, and 5 – Very Confident.

How confident are you that as an effective governing body, the board:
1. Monitors and evaluates the performance of the executive director on a regular basis?
2. Ensures legal compliance with federal, state, and local regulations?
3. Ensures that government contract obligations are fulfilled?
4. Monitors financial performance and projections on a regular basis?
5. Has a strategic vision for the organization?
6. Has adopted an income strategy (that combines contributions, earned income and other revenue) to ensure adequate resources?
7. Has a clear policy on the responsibilities of board members in fundraising?
8. Has adopted a conflict of interest policy that is discussed regularly?
9. Currently contains an appropriate range of expertise and diversity to make it an effective governing body?
10. Regularly assesses its own work?

How confident are you that most or all board members:
11. Understand the mission and purpose of the organization?
12. Are adequately knowledgeable about the organization’s programs?
13. Act as ambassadors to the community on behalf of the organization and its constituencies?
14. Follow through on commitments they have made as board members?
15. Understand the role that volunteers play in the organization?
16. Understand the respective roles of the board and staff?
17. Are appropriately involved in board activities?
Please comment:
18.  What information—whether about the organization, the field (such as immigration), nonprofit management or nonprofit boards—would you like to get to help you be a better board member?
19. When you joined the board, did you have ideas on how you would help the organization that haven’t happened?  If so, what ideas?  
20. What suggestions/questions do you have for the board chair or the executive director about the board, your own role, or any other aspect of the organization?  
21.  Would you like the board chair to contact you about getting together?
22.  Would you like the executive director to contact you about getting together?

This article is from Best of the Board Café, a compilation of the best Board Café articles, a CompassPoint-Wilder Book available through or a little cheaper at

Related articles from the Board Café, archived free at

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