Interpreting the Board Assessment Tool Results

How did your board score on Joan's Big BAT (Board Assessment Tool)?

How did your board score on Joan’s Big BAT                  (Board Assesment Tool)?

So last week I offered you a new way of looking at board assessment – my own Board Assessment Tool that I call Joan’s Big BAT.  It offers a way of assessing your board as a collection of individuals based on what I believe are the criteria that really matter. I suggested that the executive director and the board chair each take a crack at filling it out, independently of one another.

I also promised that this week, I would tell you how to use it to create an action plan for a more effective board.

I like to keep my promises.

Before I offer you specific examples of action plans, there are a few important steps you must take.

STEP 1:  ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS

If you think that a strong board has individuals with straight 5s, think again. A strong board has stars, duds and people that fall in between.

Yes, you heard me right. That is a strong board. It’s time to adjust your expectations. If you don’t, you’ll be frustrated and whether you are a board chair or an executive director, you will communicate that frustration in non-productive ways that will demoralize the entire board.

STEP 2:  LOOK FOR OVERALL BOARD HEALTH METRICS

Take a look at your completed assessment form. If you’re meeting these metrics, you and your board are doing pretty well.

  • Less than 25%  “dead weight”
  • More than 33% “high performers”
  • Better than 60% with high (5) organizational interest
  • More than 60% with a 4 or 5 in actual fundraising success
  • More than 33% score a 4 or 5 in leadership potential
  • More than 75% score a 4-5 in engaging staff constructively
  • More than 25% score a POSITIVE 4-5  on “board influence”

STEP 3:  BEWARE OF BOARD RED FLAGS

  • Anyone with a NEGATIVE influence on the board, scoring a 4 or 5.  This is a bad apple. Her/his role on the board needs to be minimized. If you have more than one person in this category,  you MUST pay attention. This kind of duo or group can work to hold a board hostage.
  • A group with very low ability to fundraise.  If 3/4 of your board score a 1 or 2 in this category,  you have trouble.  Usually, a board’s #1 responsibility is to raise money. This metric tells you that even if they would raise money, they can’t.
  • Lack of leadership potential.  If less than 20% of your board scores a 4 or 5, you have no leadership pipeline. Slim pickings in leadership is always a big fat red flag.
  • High self Interest.  More than 60% score a 1 or 2?  This means that for most of your board, self-interest trumps passion for the organization. I bet they scored low in nearly all other categories. And don’t even think about expecting them to raise money because as we know, to be a fundraiser, your love for the cause must trump your fear of asking.
  • Too much dead weight.  If more than 1/3 of your board scores a 1 or 2,  you simply have too many people not carrying their weight. Not only is that a problem in and of itself but it will quickly demoralize every other person on your board.

OK, now to some ideas for action planning….

5 ACTIONS TO TAKE TO IMPROVE BOARD EFFECTIVENESS

  1. Encourage those who “need encouragement.”  These folks are not dead weight. They will deliver if you ask. And when they deliver, they feel success and they feel valued. With the right moves and some attention, you can shift some of these into the “self starter” category, thus further marginalizing the “dead weight.”
  2. Hone in on board members with high fundraising capacity and low “actuals.” If you can convert a few of these, you can hit real pay dirt. Consider engaging them (rather than ignoring them or being irritated with them) directly in fundraising by giving them ownership of the next development training.
  3. Ensure that those with leadership potential are given opportunities to lead. And appreciate the heck out of them. Consider placing one of these folks on the executive committee as a member-at-large or ask one of them to chair an ad hoc committee.
  4. Marginalize “negative influence” and “dead weight.”  Review the assessment results carefully. Identify a small group – a few stars and a few folks you might not be focused on but who show promise based on their scores. Give that group something to do – plan a retreat, serve on an ad hoc committee, work with staff on strategic planning. Let them shine.  Support and guide their efforts to ensure success. Take the extra time to build this group and imbue it with some power and credibility in the service of using them to “tip” the board in the direction of positive action. The message?  The bar is being raised. This will highlight (and not in a good way) the “negative” board members and the “dead weight.”  If you do this well, those folks evaporate.
  5. Capitalize on those with unique value to the organization beyond fundraising.  Meet with each one of them and appreciate her/his unique added value.  Have a real authentic conversation and create a plan about how the organization can take best advantage of that.  If you don’t, you will lose them.
  6. I know. I know. I said 5 but I just have to add a 6th – Use this tool for recruiting.  The results of this assessment  should show you gaps, not in skill sets but in the nine key areas that board recruitment committees do not always consider.  As I have stated,  these are criteria that really matter and recruitment efforts should focus not simply on particular expertise but these less tangible and yet no less valuable criteria.

JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG…

So here’s the honest truth.  I had some trouble writing this.  Not because I don’t know a good board when I see one but rather because each and every board is unique.  And because, as I pointed out when I developed the tool, you cannot look at your board in the aggregate but rather as a collection of individuals with skills and attributes.

Armed with some of my examples, metrics and red flags, I hope you will set time aside. Executive Director and Board Chair. Off the record.  Compare notes. Talk about what each of you have learned about your board through this assessment.

Try some of my ideas. Develop some of your own. And if you get stuck, if you have questions, if the two of you are not clear about how the results might inform the building a stronger board, shoot me an email.  I’d really like to help. I’m happy to offer you a reasonably priced one hour consultation. Send me your results ahead of our conversation and I’ll be happy to spend an hour hearing your thoughts and sharing my own observations and insights about how to move your board forward.

Joan Garry
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Joan Garry

Widely known as the "Dear Abby" of nonprofit leadership, Joan works with board and staff as a strategic advisor, crisis manager, change agent and strategic planner. Joan also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania with a focus on nonprofit communications and leadership.
Joan Garry
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  • Lee Parker

    Hi Joan,
    I’m the ED of a tiny, new, arts non-profit in Pittsburgh. The founding board members (4) are passionate, however for the most part fundraising is not something they’ve shown an interest in. One member is fantastic, so its really just three of them that are the weak-links, out of seven members.

    I have spoken to them numerous times during board meetings about small ways in which they can begin the process. This can be as simple as an introduction. New board selection has been more strategic and these members pay close attention to their fundraising obligations. All members have a contract that clearly specifies duties in raising money for the organization. The new board members are helping to lift the bar and founding board members are taking notice, however three of them continue to be duds. We have a revolving term policy, with two coming off the board next year, one is completely deadwood, the other is very good. As a small start-up, I need a proactive, working board. The founding members have the ability to fund-raise, but perhaps lack the know-how and need more guidance?

    OK – my question.- I was thinking about tabling a menu of achievable fundraising options for the next board meeting. A selection of simple ways they can get help – have a cocktail party, a barbecue, an email introduction, a meeting, bring someone by for a tour of our buildings, yada-yada. I’m happy to then make the ask. Do you think presenting a ‘menu’ is a good idea – and do you have any additional ideas as to what the menu could contain?

    I realize according to your breakdown, we have a serious problem with the balance of this board, but I’m planning future changes, putting better systems in place, adding committees etc.and have some great board members lined up to come on at the end of this year and 2017. If I cannot change the composition at the moment, perhaps I can motivate them to do something at this meeting to get them off the grass? I’d like to suggest performance goals for the next meeting – and if they are not achieved should we have a conversation about discontinuing their service?

    Thanks for your input!
    Lee Parker
    Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center

    • Lee. First off, having 3 of 7 who are fantastic fundraisers is actually quite good. Why don’t you engage THEM in working with the other 4 rather than having it fall to you? The menu idea is excellent once folks are bought into the responsibility. Why don’t you ask them a simple question at your next meeting. Ask all of them, even the high performers. “We have a need for funds. Here’s what raising X dollars would look like and here’s what raising X+ 20% looks like. Clearly we are all in this fundraising business together – it’s really a team sport. What do you NEED in order to be a successful fundraiser for our organization? How can I help? How can our colleagues help?” Get this out on the table and address their needs. They are likely to offer suggestions that make a great deal of sense. Consider that approach before the menu idea. Best of luck.

      • Lee Parker

        Hi Joan,
        Thank you – I feel better about my board now, thanks for waking me up! They are a great bunch of people, even the inactive members. I will give your advice a stab at our meeting next week. Starting the conversation with some inquiry is a smart way to steer the discussion. I’ll let you know how it goes!