Many arts organizations want to improve the functionality of their boards. But it is impossible to know areas of board strength and weakness if the experiences and efforts of board members are not understood. And without that understanding, it is nearly impossible for an organization to discern the best course of action for board improvement.
Due to an increasing focus on accountability at all levels of the non-profit organization, board assessment has emerged as a solution. Similar to the process for evaluating an arts organization’s programs and management, assessing board performance helps to identify success, shortcomings, and overall trends among members. It is also an opportunity for board members to reflect on their involvement and to share ideas for board’s future direction.
While assessment may be a desirable solution, it can be difficult to conduct in-person, especially if attendance issues are a major problem that the organization seeks to address. Online assessment, however, allows board members to reflect and write on their own time, from any location. Several online assessment tools are available that have been specifically designed to assess board performance. For example, the New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits has developed an affordable ($50) online service that features an online survey and automatic tabulation. The assessment reviews effectiveness in 12 aspects of governance, such as development and external Relations. Board members are sent a personalized link and asked to complete the survey in a two-week window. Once the survey window has closed, the Center tabulates and sends the survey results as a PDF document within two business days.
Another option is GEM (Governance Excellence Model) a free assessment tool developed by Strive that assesses six actions that the Board is responsible for: respect, reflect, select, connect, direct, protect, and expect. GEM is very easy to set up. Simply create an account and add board members as participants. Once the board has completed the assessment, GEM sends the administrators a one-page summary that highlights board performance in each of the key areas. A full 25-page report that highlights strengths, weaknesses, and areas of key differences is available for $500.
Another option for arts organizations seeking to understand board performance is to design a survey on a free or low-cost survey site. A survey can be a great tool for gauging general reactions and responses of board members to the organization, meetings, and unique experiences. Results from a survey can also be used to develop an official board assessment. Companies such as Survey Monkey and Qualtrics provide automatic tabulation, the ability to export data, many different question styles, and a range of response options. A survey can be posted to a board portal, shared on private networking sites, or emailed directly to members.
Whether feedback is gathered from an online assessment, an electronic survey, or both, the resulting information can be compiled and shared at both the next Board meeting and on the Board portal, potentially sparking a candid and engaged discussion about the optimum path toward improving board engagement, motivation, and performance.