Good Governance – Board Effectiveness

Board effectiveness and evaluation: How effective is your board?

All boards in the charity or not for profit sector should at least do a self-assessment annually. It is recommended in a number of governance codes (charitable and sports governance codes) that an independent evaluation be conducted every three years. For most volunteer community boards this can be quite a daunting task to undertake and difficult to know where to start.

Why should we evaluate a board?

Just because it is recommended or part of a compliance agreement with a key funder or stakeholder, that shouldn’t be the only reason a board conducts an evaluation process. Ideally a board will embrace the notion of continuous improvement in the performance of the individuals and the collective (the board). The aim should be to improve the performance of the board (and the organisation as a whole), to take stock and go through a developmental process that will be positive, honest, thorough and constructive. A good evaluation process will at the very least identify some weakness or strengths and allow the board to identify gaps and/or adapt as part of the process.

How do you go about evaluating the board?

There are a number of downloadable self-assessment tools available online that could be adapted and used to get the ball rolling. This doesn’t have to be a complicated process but what boards should avoid is doing an evaluation just as a tick box exercise as part of a compliance approach, i.e. just to be able to say, ‘we did it’!

This is an opportunity to dig deep into the organisation as part of the process. The board needs to agree to be honest and constructive in assessing the board and its work. This culture of honesty, openness and trust may be difficult to embed at first, but the impact that this can have on the performance of the business could be huge.

The result could be identifying areas of weakness or gaps to improve and gives an opportunity to strengthen areas and become more effective. It also allows a board to show what’s going well at board level and throughout the business. Taking stock of the board’s effectiveness also assures stakeholders/funders or parent bodies that you are adopting good practice and are showing a duty of care to the community or customer. It allows you to refresh and update policies and work practices and contrast with where you think you should be. There is always room for improvement.

Once an evaluation is completed, the board and senior management should review the report together. It is very important to include the senior management or CEO/Manager in the process and the review. The link between the board and the operational staff is key to making sure that quality communication flows from the top down and bottom up. All staff should have some understanding of how decisions are reached and the implementation of any actions as a result of the evaluation.

Lastly there are a few things you should look out for as part of a board effectiveness or evaluation process. This includes things like: the right mix of skills on the board, diversity, quality time spent on strategy, engagement with stakeholders or members, terms of appointment of directors and the relationship with the Manager and/or senior management team.

Just a few ideas and something to think about over the weekend. If you have any queries or would like some help on this topic, please don’t hesitate to contact me. This might be the next step to building a better board!

David McNally, Fingal Community and Recreation Services

Fingal Community and Recreation Services CLG is a subsidiary company of Fingal County Council. They oversee the management of 7 facilities on behalf of the Council under a management licence.