Board Study

By: Beth Finch |

BoardSource published results from the 8th version of its national survey “Leading with Intent: A National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices.”  Although not exclusive to charter schools and education, 850 non-profit chief executives and 246 board chairs completed the survey; and it includes a trove of valuable information.

CEO of BoardEffect, Todd Gibby, highlighted a few less publicized but still important items from the 50+ pages of results. These were his “Top 10 Not-Quite-Headlines, But-Still-Super-Interesting” points from this study:

  1. Board Work: Board chairs “devote considerable time to the organization – on average 14.5 hours per month.” Meanwhile, 50% of CEO’s report that they spend 12 to 20 hours per month on board issues.

Any way you slice it this is a big investment of time and energy.

  1. Meeting Time: Boards spend less than 25 hours a year in meetings (68% of boards meet 9 times or less per year, and 78% meet for 2.5 hours or less), and board member attendance is declining.

Notwithstanding some commonly held perceptions, it’s certainly NOT all about the meeting.

  1. Meeting Productivity: Nearly 80% of chief executives report they provide their board members with necessary information for meetings, but less than 40% believe board members are well prepared for meetings.

Providing concise and meaningful dashboards that encourage generative discussions can inspire and encourage participation.

  1. Meeting Quality: 69% of chief-executives report that meetings are well run, but only 35% report that meetings focus, to a great extent, on strategy and policy rather than operational issues.

CEO responses indicate that meeting focus is stuck in fiduciary mode, in spite of meaningful prep and solid meeting management.

  1. Strategic Planning: While 81% of boards approve the final strategic plan, only 20% of CEO’s give their boards an A for effort in adopting and following it.

This seems to support CEOs’ assessment of board activity being more about oversight than insight and foresight.

  1. Self-Assessment: 52% of boards have conducted a board self-assessment recently, 14% conducted an assessment 3 or more years ago, and 29% have never done a board self-assessment.

Understanding what’s working for board members can be valuable. Bi-annual updates and progress reporting on board goals can mobilize and encourage board participation.

  1. Board Engagement: Only 1 in 5 CEO’s strongly agree that the majority of board members are engaged.

I interpret this as the strongest indictment in the survey by CEOs of their boards.  It’s hard to imagine how boards can operate at a strategic level or engage in an informed assessment of their performance, if they are not truly engaged. Creating systems such as use of dashboards and technology to inform and educate board members but remaining mindful of their time and capacity is constructive.

  1. Board Recruiting: 58% of chief executives say it is difficult to find people to serve on the board – up from 44% in 2012.

Yikes that sure seems like a big jump since 2010.  Given the points above, and knowing how time-intensive it is to find the right people in any business, this is not good news.  This also seems to follow directly from the point above regarding engagement: engaged boards attract the right people, while passive boards do not.  This seems more of a symptom than the problem itself.

  1. Use of Technology: Organizations’ use of board portals or other password protected Web site increased from 26% in 2013 to 30% in 2014.

Technology is no panacea, but it can certainly help.

  1. Best Practices: According to BoardSource, “Board Meeting time can be spent more productively with greater use of consent agendas and dashboards. These tools enable the board to streamline meetings and better deploy technology to expedite information sharing and board member participation.  Ideally, the outcome of more streamlined meetings is not just shorter meetings but meetings that allow more time for meaningful discussion on strategic issues.”

I’ll toast to that!  Strategy + People + Processes + Technology really can make can impact in this critically important area.

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