By Ruth Masterson, ASF
I think small foundation boards know more than sometimes they think they do. I’m not talking about individual trustees. Instead, I’m talking about the knowledge that the board holds collectively about what they as a group do well and what they don’t do well. This knowledge is often unacknowledged or difficult to name, a situation that creates an obvious barrier to improving the work of the foundation.
Board self-assessments are a way to get at that knowledge. A board self-assessment done well will result in this knowledge written down in black and white, will create a practical map to move the board forward, will heartily applaud what the board does well, and will ease tension and open doors to move forward in areas that a board needs to work on.
When should a foundation board tackle a self-assessment? When I interviewed Judy Healey, a consultant in California, she explained it well. She said that there are essentially two reasons to get started on a self-assessment: “First, if the board is already doing a good job and just wants to do better; this is a common and great reason for self-assessment. A second good reason is if there are major problems. The assessment won’t fix the problems, but it’s a start. It’s a process that will give the board some important information to help it move forward.”
Does your board want to do its work better? This month ASF is publishing its Practical Board Self-Assessment primer and survey questionnaire, which your foundation board can use to conduct its own self-assessment. We’re very excited to provide this new offering exclusively for ASF members.
There are several self-assessments on the market now. Some are excellent, but all have a different focus. For example, some include both foundations and also public charities; some are focused on family foundations of all sizes.
To our knowledge, only ASF’s board self-assessment is focused on foundations with few or no staff, with supplementary modules for family foundations, corporate foundations, community foundations, and others. It also includes a board meeting assessment form, an individual board member self-assessment, and a grantee and applicant perception form. Most of all, ASF’s board self-assessment is structured to be maximally flexible and comprehensive.
ASF members can purchase the primer and the survey questionnaire in ASF’s online bookstore. Non-members can purchase the primer, which provides an overview of all the steps. If your foundation has few or no staff but is not yet an ASF member, consider joining now.
Want to learn more? Join me and ASF member Jeff Glebocki, president of The Raymond John Wean Foundation, for a free webinar-introduction to ASF’s Practical Board Self-Assessment on November 13. Sign up today!
ASF Senior Program Manager Ruth Masterson is the project manager for ASF’s Practical Board Self-Assessment. She works closely with members to create written materials and training curricula, and answers member questions on foundation administration, governance, boards, and tax and legal topics. Prior to joining ASF, she served nonprofits in her work at Adler & Colvin, the Council on Foundations, and the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law.