Over the years, I have served on many not-for-profit boards. My first such experience was shortly after I graduated from the CUNY Graduate School. I joined the alumni association and ultimately served a term as President. Most members of this board were recent graduates which I don’t think is unusual. Many of us thoroughly enjoyed our graduate experience and joining the alumni association was both an opportunity to stay in touch and to give back. Subsequent to that experience I joined a number of other boards, most of which relate to schools and education in general. I also interact with boards in community, business, government, religious, and educational settings. For the most part I am very impressed with those individuals who serve on boards. The pro bono work involved is much needed and much appreciated.
Board members often get reviewed at the end of their term prior to an assessment being made as to whether the person should be reappointed to another term. The criteria of work, wisdom and wealth are very much alive and the proportions vary greatly among not-for-profit organizations.
What I have seen less often is a board reviewing itself and its overall record of accomplishment and assessment of what works, what doesn’t work, and what should happen next. And yet this assessment and this conversation can be particularly invaluable.
Why am I writing about this now? In my role as Vice President of my local school board, I have spent much of today reviewing and collating the individual assessments of my fellow board member and my assessment as well. The Board does such an evaluation every year and I have now completed three such evaluations (including this one) and this is my first opportunity to collate the responses. The extensive list of topics in this evaluation covers Board Relations, Superintendent Relations, Community Relations, Staff and Personnel Relations, the Instructional Program, Fiscal, and Goals. Within those heading there are a significant number of specific topics covering all aspects of the Board’s responsibility. Board members are requested to check the appropriate box and rate the Board on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). Questions include “Board members are prepared for meetings,” “Board members always demonstrate the educational well being of children as the top priority,” “Board members arrive at meetings on time,” “Board members respect the confidentiality off executive sessions,” “The Board provides an effective orientation program for new board members,” “All board members demonstrate an understanding of the existing body of policy,” “The board works and plans with the superintendent in a spirit of mutual respect, trust, confidence and cooperation,” “The board encourages community assistance at meetings,” “The board uses established procedures for staff complaints and suggestions to the board,” “The Board provides sufficient resources for independent evaluation of programs,” “The Board employs clear policies on sound fiscal management,” and “The board establishes clearly defined annual goals.” I have probably listed only ten percent of the actual questions but it does give a clear idea of how in-depth this self-analysis is. And what follows the tabulations of the results is a board conversation, at our annual retreat, on our performance.
Looking at the individual responses from my colleagues on the board and compiling them into a summary gives me even greater respect for this process and for this school board. All of us serving on a not-for-profit board need to take the time to review the work and the effectiveness of the board. This is especially important in this era of outcomes assessment; our outcomes also need to be assessed. I am certain that the end result of this process if taken seriously is an even more effective board, which of course was the purpose to begin with.