Ask any executive director to define a healthy board and you’ll usually get the same answer. It’s about fundraising. The board does it; it functions and if it doesn’t, it’s useless.
Ask a board chair and you’ll get something a bit more nuanced (assuming she’s of the healthy variety herself.)
No matter how you define it, a healthy, functional, and robust board is the foundation for a nonprofit organization described exactly that same way.
But it DOES matter how you define board health and there are some good tools available to diagnose the functioning of your board as a group.
Tools like this one ask you to assess whether the board has a full and common understanding of their roles and responsibilities; whether the structural pattern (board, officers, committees, executive, staff) is clear; whether needed skills, stakeholders, and diversity is represented on the board; and whether the board attends to policy related decisions that effectively guide the operational activities of the staff.
But assessments like these have a couple of big problems. Read on and I’ll give you a tool that you can download and use for free that does better.
THE PROBLEM WITH STANDARD ASSESSMENT TOOLS
So what are the problems with the regular toolset? Here are two very big ones.
1) We need to look at a board as a collection of individuals: Rating these on a scale of 1 to 5 tells me something but not enough. Rating your board in the aggregate only tells you so much.
2) We need to ask different and deeper questions. If every single board member has a full and common understanding of the roles and responsibilities of a board (rate them a 5) and ½ of them show up late for meetings and another 1/3 never show up to any organization activities, what kind of board do you really have on your hands?
TIME FOR A BRAND NEW BOARD ASSESSMENT TOOL
Nothing out there addressed these more nuanced issues and so I have developed my own. I call it “Joan’s Big BAT.” Think of the name this way – (1) it was hard to find an acronym that created a word and (2) your board has to step up to the plate and swing with a big bat every time in order for your organization to do right by its mission.
With Passover nearing, it seems fitting to ask: Why is this tool different from all other tools?
- You rate each board member individually.
- The assessment criteria really matter. How many of your board members have leadership potential? This is key to a high functioning board. Or what level of influence (positive or negative) does each individual board member have on the decisions made by the board?
- With the Big BAT, you get a full picture. You see each person individually and then you stand back and look at the results in their aggregate.
Here’s what else is different about my assessment tool – WHO does it. It’s not done by the individual board members. It’s done by just two individuals and each of them does it independently – the executive director and the board chair.
YOUR HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT
I’m giving away the Big BAT as a token of my appreciation for reading my blog. So your homework is as follows:
- Download a copy of the Big BAT.
- On the next weekly call between the ED and the board chair, put it on the agenda. Agree to give it a shot independently.
Next: Learn how to create a specific action plan based on the assessment.