Observations from the Field
Over the past six years, La Piana Consulting has conducted facilitated board assessments with more than 75 organizations, large and small, young and old, working in a variety of different fields. We have found that many boards struggle to build the capacity for effective fiduciary governance, in which case assessment is often a useful diagnostic for identifying areas where board education and development is needed. Most of the boards we work with are grappling with how to engage more at the strategic level, and for these boards the assessment helps galvanize their thinking about strategic priorities and their role in setting future direction. A small number of boards have already demonstrated generative governance, or have expressly asked our help in strengthening their capacity in this area. For this last group, the assessment process serves as a springboard for board conversation on how to bring the organization, and its work, to the next level.
Our approach is collaborative, combining the board’s self-assessment of its strengths and challenges with our consultants’ objective expertise, facilitation, and experience gained from working with all types of boards. Together, the assessment tool, the board discussion, and the third-party consultant perspective helps the board to constructively surface challenges, see things in new ways, align behind key priorities, and turn action into results.
Board assessment can be done quickly and effectively with little disruption to the board’s regular operations or other organizational priorities (after all, the whole point of an assessment is to help the board better serve the organization, not to distract from it). Yet as many as 40% of boards have never engaged in a written self-assessment. This is a missed opportunity to engage the board in examining its own performance, just as it would any other major organizational asset.
“Before the board assessment, I had no idea where our strengths and weaknesses were. It has been very eye-opening to see what we need to do as a board.”
Board Chair of a human services nonprofit that recently completed a board self-assessment
Nonprofits must be nimble and creative in responding to the increasingly rapid pace of change. Many are reviewing their business models, restructuring, or revisiting and revising their core strategies, potentially transformative work in which the board must be prepared to play a critical role. Understanding the board’s development needs and priorities is particularly important if the organization is contemplating a major change, but even those organizations that just want to improve their everyday organizational functioning can benefit from board assessment.