New Year Planning: Start With Your Board

Continuing The Conversation: January 2014

As 2014 gets underway, I wish every nonprofit a successful year in fulfilling your mission. And toward that end, a reminder: your fund development planning begins today.

When I beat the drum for long-term planning, as I consistently do, it’s not just about cultivating donors. Board ServiceIt’s also about considering who supports that process and how. A board that functions well and provides a solid foundation on which an organization prospers is every nonprofit’s goal. That’s why planning starts with your board and a fundamental question: Does each member fully understand the duties of board service? That means the board’s role in governance and fundraising, as well as members’ fiscal contributions.

Not certain? Then begin with a board assessment. It’s a savvy step for ensuring board members are willing and prepared.

Benefits of Board Assessment

If you’re not familiar with this tool, it’s essentially a self-assessment. Board members answer questions – by name or anonymously; either can be instructive – about their service, performance (such as supporting and guiding the organization’s mission), policies and practices. On one level, it’s a check of whether board members are in sync with one another and with the organization.

An assessment can also raise red flags. From my experience, when organizations stumble, there’s lack of knowledge among board members. Three cautionary tales from last year immediately come to mind: a governance issue that could have been caught sooner had board members understood their oversight role; fundraising blunders by board members who had not kept pace with how their grassroots organization had grown and required more formal development strategies; and a board that was unaware of its own bylaws and made an unsupported assertion.

A board assessment can reveal those kinds of weaknesses – as well as strengths – among board members and the organization. With targeted information, organization and board can then plan for board training and development that’s valuable to all concerned.

Present and Future Planning

Using assessment outcomes to plan training and board composition can build a consistently strong and proactive board. Understandably, an assessment offers a more comfortable way for some board members to admit confusion or concerns, frustration or disagreement over an organization’s direction, or feelings it’s time to leave. Otherwise the parking lot becomes the forum for innovation and speaking truth – sound familiar? – and those conversations typically go nowhere.

Then there’s the future to plan for. Currently only two percent of board members are under thirty. Yet despite Baby Boomers’ numbers and relative health, they won’t be a driving force forever. Changing attitudes and economic realities will bring very different generations of board members literally to the table. A tried-and-tested assessment process can smooth these transitions.

A new year is the time for resolutions, both personal and institutional. Yes, many are unrealistic aims that barely make it through January. But trust me: a board assessment is manageable and achievable. And when it sparks board development – that can pay off for years to come.

 If you’re interested in customized board training and development that includes board assessment, let’s talk.