How Effective is Your Board? Here’s a Simple Test

by Joan Garry

Does your board know what it's doing? Download my Simple Board Assessment and find out.

Dysfunctional boards would be comical if they weren’t scary.

Did I tell you the one about the board that needed to fire the Executive Director, but the ED had stacked the board with friends (because there was no formal recruitment process) and so the motion did not carry? And in the next two years, the endowment disappeared?

Or how about the board that approved an $8 million budget with just one probing question: “How much is a first class stamp these days?”

Then there was the board that met for nearly a year without a chair because no one wanted the responsibility.

Oh, and then there was the board that finally made a strategic decision to eliminate an ineffective program that cost too much money in order to ensure the sustainability of the nonprofit. And then after the meeting, more than half the board resigned and started a competitive organization to keep that program alive. All because of a charismatic founder.

I could go on but you get the idea.

Nearly every problem an organization has can be tied back to a dysfunctional board. But fortunately, there are clear signs of a dysfunctional board.

Want to know what they are?

==> Download my Simple Board Assessment


In a thriving nonprofit, board chairs and staff leaders act as co-pilots in their nonprofit “twin engine jet.” It’s critical that both engines – your board and your staff – function well.

Your board chair and staff leader can use my simple board assessment together at your next board meeting or at a retreat where you are taking stock of how the organization is doing. You’ll quickly and specifically learn where there is room for improvement.


Several years ago, I had a big “AHA” moment. It was this.

Most boards are dysfunctional not because of any malice or bad intent. They are dysfunctional because board members don’t know any better. They don’t know what ‘functional” looks like.

I was just on the phone with an Executive Director. She said, “Can I call you back? I’m just finishing the board meeting agenda – my board chair is waiting for it.”

I said, “Sure but you know that is not your job.”

She said “Huh?

I replied: “It’s not your meeting; why should it be your agenda?

She was ecstatic. She didn’t hang up. She had no idea that this job rightfully belonged to the board chair.

People really don’t know what a functioning board looks like.


My simple assessment tool will help you really look at your board and understand what is important. It consists of 25 items that are, for me, signs of a highly effective board. No one gets ‘em all. Trust me.

See it as a way to prioritize some of your areas of weakness.

But use the assessment to educate yourself and then to build a board that is stronger, more effective, and can stand as a real partner with the staff in leading the organization.

==> Download my Simple Board Assessment