I was interviewing for the opportunity to work with a family foundation, when the Board President asked me, astutely, what an organizational assessment includes – as I see it. I was facing a board of nearly 15 individuals in a large conference room, with board members ranging from 30 years of age to 90. Within this age-diverse group, there must be at least as many understandings of the phrase “organizational assessment” as there were individuals!
I’m sure every consultant they were interviewing also had a different understanding and different approach! Having worked with many organizations over the years, here is my own:
I typically start with either a governance review or a board self-assessment.
- The governance review is my review of the organization’s internal and external management, communications, legal filings, and governance documents – from bylaws and policies to grant forms or applications and website.
- The board self-assessment is my opportunity to hear from each board member individually, and can take the form of one-on-one interviews, a survey, or combined strategies. If a survey is used, I recommend those offered by BoardSource for nonprofits and large foundations and the one I created for Exponent Philanthropy for small foundations.
With one of these completed, I identify priorities and gaps and confer with the organization’s point person or committee. We discuss what we’ve learned and consider whether any additional organizational aspects should be be assessed, which might include impact, expenses; external stakeholders; peers in the field or community; transparency; staff compensation; grantmaking strategies and/or processes (for funders); development (for nonprofits); and so on.
There are many terrific tools available, and they can be tailored to fit the organization’s need; new tools can also be created. I find that there’s a sweet spot of two to four additional areas that the organization is best served; you want enough additional information to hone in on the organization’s particular situation but not so many that you are lost in data and information.
I work throughout with my point person or team so there are no big surprises at the end when I craft a report for the board with the most informative and effective PowerPoint and/or handouts I can pull together. My report is structured to first, provide context, and second, summarize what each portion of the assessment revealed. Then, I provide recommendations that I offer to the board as a starting point for their own discussion and decisions. After all, while I bring expertise and an outside perspective, only the board’s thoughtful discussions and process can truly find the best answer for the board. And last, I am available to facilitate the conversations that emerge.
It’s an exciting, creative process! Although it can feel somewhat groundless to not have rock-solid, rigid definition of OA, in the end, I value the flexibility and creativity of my approach, which creates an open space for powerful change. The end goal, after all, is to have something useful to the organization that reflects the organization’s values and needs, and can be implemented as effortlessly as possible.
And don’t forget – the different assessments that can be completed within an OA can also be done as stand-alones and still be incredibly useful.
If you’re curious to learn more, I’m happy to chat – no expectations! Give me a call or shoot me an email to set up a time to talk. I’m happy to be of service to you on your journey by considering together what you’re looking for. There’s no better way for you to get a stronger sense of whether it’s time for your organization to do an assessment, organizational or otherwise — and for us both to learn if I’m a good fit to work with you and your organization.