Guest column – Self-assessment critical

By Bob Marovich

Todd Cohen’s recent editorial on the importance of institutional self-assessment is right on the mark. Today, self-assessment is not an option; it is imperative.

And it all begins with the board.

The days are over when a nonprofit board of directors should accept as gospel pronouncements delivered by staff at board meetings. Those days have gone the way of Enron, Arthur Andersen, and a host of other organizations that lost their way, including some charities.

Accountability is the watchword today, and boards need to sound the cry loudest. A nonprofit board that rubberstamps decisions, is blissfully ignorant or benignly neglectful of operational activities or – worse yet – complicit in organizational misbehavior, has failed the public it has been given the honorable duty to serve.

I am board president of an animal welfare agency with a $1 million budget. With the support of management, we commissioned a study to enhance the shelter’s effectiveness and efficiency.

The firm conducting the study interviewed employees – from the executive director to members of the custodial crew – as well as volunteers and a few former employees.

We wanted to find out what the employees and volunteers needed to help them meet the shelter’s mission every day, what opportunities the organization might be missing, and what issues needed the board’s attention most.

Don’t misunderstand me: Such studies are not licenses for boards to micromanage. Rather, they help directors take a more active and intelligent interest in the nonprofit’s daily activities, and provide appropriate assistance and direction.

But the evaluation does not stop there. Board members must also assess their own effectiveness to ensure that they are meeting the nonprofit’s needs for time, talent, and treasure.

In addition, board members should evaluate the board chair, providing feedback that will help him or her become a better leader.

The age of accountability requires a higher magnitude of due diligence than ever before. Nonprofits – and the causes they serve – deserve nothing less.

Bob Marovich is vice president of Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt, a nonprofit consulting firm based in Chicago.

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