Lessons From Board Self-Assessments

When boards assess their own work, where do they tend to improve, and where do they struggle? A recent study by the ASAE Foundation sheds light on these questions.

The survey focused on organizations whose board members used a board self-assessment tool released in 2009 by ASAE in collaboration with BoardSource. Respondents were asked to gauge the performance of the boards on which they served in 68 categories.

They tended to give themselves high marks for nuts-and-bolts responsibilities such as following bylaws and IRS regulations, giving the CEO authority to lead, and reviewing financial audits. They felt they performed relatively weakly, however, on more complicated matters: addressing CEO succession, identifying and cultivating potential board members, benchmarking organizational performance, identifying gaps in diversity and expertise, and measuring the impact for critical programs and initiatives. And though nearly all board members reported evaluating their CEO, only 77 percent of respondents said they deliver formal written evaluations.

Strategic planning was particularly tough for boards—even for those that have a written strategic plan. Participants gave themselves relatively low marks on setting strategic direction, engaging in an effective strategic-planning process, and tracking progress toward meeting strategic goals.

One major influence on how a board perceives its effectiveness? Board size. According to the study, boards with fewer than 20 people reported having a very satisfying experience more than half the time. Larger boards expressed less enthusiasm.

A full report on the study was scheduled to be published in July by the ASAE Foundation. Visit www.asaefoundation.org to learn more.


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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