Assess. Improve. Repeat. Sounds really simple, but a recent study conducted by BoardSource, found "only 51 percent of boards reported that they use a formal, written evaluation of their board."

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations are registered in the U.S. Therefore, roughly 750,000 nonprofit organizations do not assess the performance of their boards.

For a high-performing board that is focused on delivering relevance and value to its constituents, there are three stages needed in the evaluation process.

1. Annual board assessment

It is recommended that every board conduct an annual board assessment that is specifically designed to evaluate and measure overall board performance as a group. Metrics include evaluating core competencies, board composition, identifying key strengths and gaps in processes and procedures.

The board assessment should be anonymous to encourage open and honest feedback (preferably collected by a third party).

2. Board member self-evaluation

On a quarterly basis, individual board members should evaluate themselves by honestly answering questions around their commitment to the board, understanding their role, how they conduct decision making and other key areas that may be applicable to your organization.

Bob Harris, CAE, has a great instrument on his website that can be inspiration for your board member self-assessment. Board members should understand that they do not have to share this information with the rest of the board. This one is personal and one in which an individual can put together his or her own personal board participation effectiveness action plan.

3. Board meeting evaluation

After every meeting it is recommended to evaluate the effectiveness of the board meeting by every board member present. I recommend adding 15 minutes to the board agenda to answer the following six questions via an electronic survey:

  1. Please rate this board meeting on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best and most productive.
  2. Was your time used effectively? Please elaborate.
  3. Were you able to contribute to this board meeting? If no, why not?
  4. Did we make any progress toward advancing the mission of the organization?
  5. What can we do to improve and make this next board meeting more effective?
  6. Do you have any topics for discussion at the next board meeting that support our strategic goals?

Use these tools not only one time but to consistently measure progress. Establish benchmarks and measure against them. With all of these tools there is the ability to not only make improvements but also measure if they have been successful. Winston Churchill once said, "It is no use saying 'we are doing our best.' You have to succeed in doing what is necessary."

Assessing not only once but many times in different forms helps to move us from a static, annual process to one that is more of a progress check-in, which allows for continuous improvement and in "doing what is necessary" for your organization's constituents.