Nonprofit Boards Rated Slightly Above Average on Overall Performance

Would you give your board an A plus in performance?   If yes, then you are in the minority according to Leading with Intent: A National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices, a report that indicates both nonprofit executives and board chairs consider their board performance only slightly above average, with an overall grade of B minus.  Survey respondents from across the country rated their boards in various areas of responsibilities with average grades ranging from an A minus in mission to a C in fundraising.

The study, conducted by BoardSource, found that boards excel at tasks of a technical nature, such as compliance and fiscal oversight, while lagging in community outreach and acting as an “ambassador” for the organization. Other areas of improvement noted:

  • Diversity. Inclusiveness in board composition – not as a numbers issue but as a valid representation of people involved in the organization – is an area in need of attention with 35 percent of the CEOs surveyed giving their board a B or above in this area.
  • Showing up. Board attendance is declining, with less than half (37 percent) of boards surveyed reporting 90 percent or better attendance in 2014.
  • Raising money. While board giving is up, fundraising is a sensitive issue. Less than ¼ of boards reported even being comfortable with providing donor contact information, and just 12 percent were comfortable meeting donors face to face.
  • Information and strategy. 35% of the boards received a C or below in the area of strategic planning.

The data and implications around these and other areas of board performance are presented in the full report, available at the Leading with Intent website. You can learn more about BoardSource here.

This was a national study, but board report cards are also a great tool at the organizational level.  These kind of self-evaluations help gauge board members’ perceptions of their own levels of knowledge and confidence, as well as measure overall board performance.  This information assists the board in identifying and discussing areas of strengths and limitations and prioritizing governance actions for the upcoming year.





Report Citation: BoardSource, Leading with Intent: A National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices (Washington, D.C.: BoardSource, 2015)

Implementing, Modeling and Managing a Measurement Culture

Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election, the nonprofit social services sector – from mental health clinics to food banks – will still be challenged to meet an increased need with fewer resources and limited funding.  Savvy nonprofits have already moved toward an evaluation culture, embracing logic models and short-and-long term impact data to illustrate why (and how) their programs work. Organizational innovation and unique program accomplishments are practically prerequisites for making a successful connection with alternate funding sources, including corporate partnerships, yet nonprofits are still struggling to identify and quantify their impact on clients, the community, and the overall condition they work to modify.  Performance measurement, logic model and outcomes are not new or faddish terms, so why the hesitation?

The report, Tough Times, Creative Measures: What Will it Take to Help the Social Sector Embrace an Outcomes Culture? from the Urban Institute, came out of a Fall 2011 event that brought together leaders from the government, nonprofit, philanthropy, and business sectors to discuss the issue of data-driven management in social and human services and the challenges related to successfully utilizing a performance management system.  Some of the challenges identified:

The difficulty of turning away from the organization’s immediate needs to plan and implement a measurement system. No matter how small the agency, the demands on the executive director’s time and talent are immense. Writing up an organization-wide evaluation strategy and implementation plan, including models, indicators, instruments, and data collection plans is an enormous amount of work – and I haven’t mentioned the pilot testing, analysis and reporting aspects.  The role of director should be to communicate progress and needs with the board as they guide the agency through this kind of culture change, not create every step of the process.

The reality that  sometimes the best outcomes may not be rewarded.  Conspiracy theories and snarky excuses aside, well-crafted stories, high profile connections and nonprofits with missions or target audiences that are more interesting or appealing than your own may have an easier time selling their effectiveness. That said, incomplete or inaccurate information on program impact won’t help remedy the situation.

Some nonprofits may be waiting for the trends to flip and the tides to turn. Why move heaven and earth within your organization to embrace a culture that may seem like a phase (especially to long-time employees who have seen edicts from funders come and go).   Buy-in for outcomes tracking and reporting  may be based on acceptance of the  hoop-jumping norms, not the real value of performance measurement to the overall health of the organization.  It is time for boards and directors to be brave and commit to an organizational culture change – but be prepared to illustrate how it will be  beneficial for staff and (more importantly) clients.

In response to these and other impediments, I mean realities,  the symposium attendees identified strategic areas that would have the most impact in encouraging and implementing a data-centered culture: human and financial capital –  the tenacity and the tab, creative advocacy – sector giants to back this shift,  and ready-to-use systems and tools so directors don’t have to start from square one.  How can nonprofit leaders better model and manage  a measurement culture?   Why are some nonprofits hesitant to embrace this shift? 



Reclaiming Measurement in the Human Services

Inputs, outcomes, program evaluation, best-practices, the gold-standard – our familiarity with these terms speaks to how ingrained measurement has become in the daily operations of nonprofits, especially for human and social service organizations. Program and other service data is used to drive decision-making and report performance to external stakeholders – especially funders – but the collecting, recording, analyzing and making use of it can easily become an infernal nightmare as described in the post Performance Measurement in Human Services: From Challenge to Opportunity by Matthew Forti at the Bridgespan Group web page.

What is a nonprofit director to do when multiple, often varied (or worse, duplicated), accountability measures lead to inefficient use of time (extensive data collection), start eating up chunks of the budget (temporary hires to catch up on a backlog of data entry and/or accuracy issues) and otherwise draw the focus away from the organization’s programming, service delivery and mission? Well, for starters, don’t let measurement own you – you must reclaim measurement. Revisit, and if necessary, revise its purpose, methods and role in your nonprofit. Mr. Forti offers several starting points for your journey toward streamlining and improving performance measurement (including a link to a white paper on measurement), all appropriate for nonprofits of any size.

Metrics, databases and reporting requirements won’t disappear, and sometimes, with some funders, they may not even make sense. That said, measurement will improve your services and your bottom line when used intelligently, proactively and consistently by leaders who recognize its value. Set the tone for your team. Make measurement work for you – not the other way around.

What Makes a Leader a GREAT Leader?

In a recent study of traits linked to leadership potential, (a provider of psychological assessment products and services) identified several skill sets where persons rated as great leaders outperformed peers who were rated as poor leaders. Through analysis and comparison of the assessments, the researchers found that individuals rated as excellent leaders scored higher than their counterparts overall and by the largest margins in the areas of goal setting, motivating others, coaching and problem solving. The high-rated leaders also outperformed the lower-rated group in measurements of extroversion and open-mindedness.

What skills do you consider to be most critical in an “excellent” leader? Should nonprofit organizations use these kind of leadership tests to help identify and develop potential in employees and volunteers?