"How Does the Board Govern and Evaluate Itself?"
Before the board can govern the organization, it must be able to govern itself. The structure, customs, methods, training and actions of the board will have a huge impact on how effective the board can be. If the current board structures are not working, then you will need to change them. The structures that guide the board-both written (by-laws) and customary (habits)-will either create a stimulating experience or stifle it.
For instance, how does the board set meetings? One of the biggest challenges all boards face is scheduling, given the busy lives we all lead. While busy people can and do get things done, if you can make it easier for folks to participate, that can broaden the scope of who is on your board. Alternatives should be explored such as video conferencing, teleconferencing, online meetings, and chat rooms for board discussion.
Although the better practice is for the board to meet in person (communication is always best in person and some states require this), there is room for creativity. Check your state's regulations (e.g., California law states that "members of the board may participate in a meeting through use of conference telephone, electronic video screen communication, or other communications equipment"). This is the 21st Century; you can use email, voice mail, cell phones, and/or faxes to communicate and to increase involvement. Balance is the key. Consider creating a listserv to keep board members informed, but remember that too much email is a quick way to burn people out. Also consider meeting in different locations to accommodate those who must travel long distances, and experiment with a more informal meeting location (someone's home instead of an office).
Minutes and Decisions
of the most important documents for board participation is minutes,
though people are rarely trained on how to take minutes. Minutes should
summarize briefly the high point of discussion items, in particular
those that led to decisions. Decisions should be recorded (often with
votes) and all actions that anyone agreed to do, whether part of a
critical decision or not, should be listed with a "who said they
would do what, and when." This last point is often neglected
and encourages a lack of accountability. Ridiculously long, "he
said/she said" minutes are a waste of everyone's time. There
may be an exception for a controversial decision or a very long and
strategic discussion, but generally all discussions/decisions should
be no more than one to two paragraphs.
Generally, large or older nonprofits use Robert's Rules of Order, which has been in existence since the 19th Century and is based on formal parliamentary procedures used by governments. For an updated 21st Century approach or for small to medium-sized nonprofits, Roberta's Rules of Order provides a less formal and more flexible approach. It emphasizes dialogue over debate with a broad view of consensus (agreement to abide by a decision not necessarily agree with it).
The confidence and efficiency of your board of directors have a significant impact on your organization's effectiveness and are critically important to its health and long-term sustainability. To gauge the effectiveness of your board of directors, once a year (or at least every other year) the board should implement an evaluation process. Many boards use some type of grid that is given to board members for confidential responses. This is then used as the basis for planning for board development. It may involve board training (an overlooked area) or some focus or action (review by-laws, create fundraising committee, research executive compensation, etc). Typically board members fill out a grid reviewing a list questions in areas such as governance, fundraising, recruitment, financial, management, fiduciary and planning practices, indicating whether the board does this activity effectively, sometimes or not at all. Board Members Rule has 125 questions in its board member evaluation grid: typical questions might include:
Any board self evaluation should identify areas for future board training. No board is completely up to snuff in all areas of governance. The board can then strategically review areas of board weakness and strength and schedule trainings or discussions for all board members as necessary.
Copyright 2007 Zimmerman Lehman.
This information is the property of Zimmerman Lehman. If you would like to reprint this information, please see our reprint and copyright policy.