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Elevate Your Board of Directors: Craft A Capacity-Building Plan That Works

Updated: Apr 16

Before recruiting new Board of Director members, doing an internal Board Evaluation to assess your Board's strengths and areas of improvement is helpful. Knowing how effective your board is, what strengths it brings, and the areas of improvement to focus on in the coming months, provides potential recruits and existing members with confidence that the board is self-aware and committed to ongoing learning and improvement.

Non-Profit Board of Directors Capacity Building Process
Non-Profit Board of Directors Capacity Building Process

Step 1: Establish a Working Committee

  • Establish a Working Committee to manage the Board Performance process. This working committee includes select board members and possibly an external advisor with performance review expertise. The working committee is responsible for:

  • Reviewing past Performance Review results (benchmark).

  • Revising and refreshing the Board Performance Questionnaire.

  • Getting Board approval for the final performance review.

  • Gathering responses from Board Members.

  • Capturing and analyzing the results.

  • Presenting the results and recommendations for best practice improvements to the Board.

Step 2: Revise and Refresh your Board Performance Review framework.

If your Board has a board performance review framework they have used in the past, a simple review and revision may be all that is necessary. There is great value in using the same questionnaire (with minimal changes) year after year, as you have a benchmark from which to measure board best practices and development.

If your board needs a board performance review framework, many examples are available online with a quick search. Alternatively, download HIP’s Board Performance Evaluation and use it as a starting point for your board evaluation.

When the working committee has defined the Board Performance Review questionnaire, the Board needs to review and approve it to ensure it captures all the data they want to evaluate.

Step 3: Complete a Board performance review.

Now, it is time to launch the Board Performance Evaluation. This simple process can be done online using Google Forms (or an alternative program) or by completing the PDF questionnaire during a board meeting.

Both methods have pro’s and con’s when it comes to execution. Online requests for input can get lost in email inboxes, leading to multiple email reminders and a percentage of incomplete forms. Doing the questionnaire during a Board meeting only captures insights from those attending.

Not having feedback from those who don’t complete the online version or don’t attend the board meeting can be problematic. These inactive members frequently have the most significant insights into how the board could better engage its members and utilize their unique skills and experiences.

Before launching the questionnaire, think through the best method to capture the most insights from the most people. A blended approach to capturing the data may work best: an online questionnaire, an in-person survey during a board meeting, and personal phone calls to less dedicated board members. This type of approach ensures everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

When completing the performance review:

  • Each performance review survey must have the same questions even if collected in different methods.

  • Ask each board member to complete the Board Performance review from their individual and whole board perspective.

Step 4: Summarize and Analyze the Results.

Depending on how you collected the answers to the questionnaire, your next step is to ensure a summary of all data. If you used an online survey to collect data and entered data collected on paper or by phone into the same system, this will be easy as the system will likely do it for you.

If you did not use an online system, you must create a spreadsheet with all the questions and add the responses individually to tally them up. This is far more time-consuming and subjective as the person inputting the information may inadvertently add their own bias to the results.

When analyzing the results, look at the outcomes from individuals to identify common areas that board members have noted as feeling they need to improve AND at the areas that have been jointly identified as areas of improvement for the board. Both must be considered when considering next steps and how to strengthen the board.

The Working Committee needs to identify and examine gaps in skills and expertise for your current and future boards.

  • Review the matrix to see where your Board is strong and where gaps may exist.

  • How will the Board build on its strengths?

  • How will the Board address weaknesses or gaps in expertise?

When the Working Committee gets the results back, the results should be compiled, and those areas where the Board identifies strengths should be highlighted and celebrated. Great job! Likewise, where gaps in knowledge, expertise, or failure to follow best practices are noted, plans must be implemented to overcome these challenges.

Step 5: Create a Board Capacity-Building plan

When the results are presented to the Board, the Board must choose which gaps in knowledge, expertise, and areas of improvement to prioritize moving forward. The final step is to write a Board capacity-building plan that prioritizes areas of improvement and how gaps will be filled.

The Board Capacity Building Plan has a simple action plan integrated into it. If you’d like to add more details, it is recommended that you try the action plan template (what, who, when, where, how) also found on our site..

To ensure that Board Capacity is implemented:

  • Ensure that this Board Capacity Building plan is front and centre on the Board Agenda and that progress is tracked and monitored.

  • If particular people need specific training, connect them with an internal or external mentor, send them to training, or coordinate training for the Board as a whole.

With a firm grasp on board strengths, improvement areas, knowledge gaps, and an improvement plan, the Board is well positioned to recruit new board members, tackle new projects, and prepare for their AGM.

When the board understands what needs to be done to build individual and group internal capacity, they can confidently move forward. Confident board members ask questions, explore perspectives, and address issues constructively, leading to easier Board recruitment and retention.

Have you ever been part of a Board Performance Review? If so, what observations do you have of the process? What worked and what didn’t? Please share your thoughts below.

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