News and analysis
September 26, 2011

Is Your Board Suffering From Burnout?

If you're a trustee or an executive who attends board meetings frequently, take this simple quiz created by BoardSource to find out whether your nonprofit board is in need of rejuvenation.
  1. Does the same small group of trustees tend to do most or all of the work of the board?
  2. Have any trustees missed half or more of your board meetings in the past year?
  3. Has your board failed to reach a quorum at any board meeting in the last 12 months?
  4. Does your board struggle to recruit and retain talented, skilled, and diverse trustees?
  5. Do board members make commitments but often fail to fulfill those promises?
  6. Do board meetings last longer than planned?
  7. Does your board automatically renew a member's term if that trustee is willing to again?
  8. Does your board have no maximum number of years that a trustee can serve?
  9. Does your organization either move from crisis to crisis or keep addressing the same issues over and over?
  10. Are board committees functioning less than optimally?
  11. Does your board struggle to find good leaders who are willing and qualified to be chair?
  12. Do board members complain that they're asked to do things they never expected to do?
  13. Does the agenda for board meetings look the same meeting after meeting?
  14. Has it been longer than two years since the board formally assessed itself with a written tool and had frank discussion about the results?
  15. Does your board suffer from boring meetings?

Results

If you answered yes to four or fewer questions: Congratulations, your board is engaged and on the right track to being a strategic asset for your organization.

If you would like to enhance your board's performance even more, try reading The Source: 12 Principles of Governance That Power Exceptional Boards. The book is the result of a panel of 27 experts who came up with ways for responsible boards to become exceptional by, to cite one example, adopting a "culture of continuous learning" to further trustees' knowledge about the organization they serve and what effective governance means. Such boards hold orientations for new members and regularly evaluate their own performance.

No matter how your organization scored on this quiz, it's always a good idea to assess your board's engagement and performance at least once a year, perhaps at an annual board retreat. Your organization will benefit from being sensitive to the possibility of trustee burnout and taking steps to proactively address it.

 

If you answered yes to five to nine questions: Your board is at a tipping point, and there may be one or more problematic issues to address.

First, boards that don't follow effective meeting practices and fail to make good use of board members' time and skills risk losing their engagement. Ensure that your board meetings include time for discussing strategic issues beyond routine, administrative matters. Second, board members may simply be exhausted. Now might be the time to take a hard look at each board member's tenure. Are there trustees who should be rotated off the board? Would the board benefit from an infusion of fresh ideas and energy that new members can bring?

Do a board matrix: List the skills, demographics, and tenure of your board, and decide whether the board you have is the board that your organization needs. If you don't have an active governance committee to lead the way, maybe it is time to form one. For a simple board matrix and more ideas to refresh your board, read The Board Building Cycle: Nine Steps to Finding, Recruiting, and Engaging Nonprofit Board Members.

No matter how your organization scored on this quiz, it's always a good idea to assess your board's engagement and performance at least once a year, perhaps at an annual board retreat. Your organization will benefit from being sensitive to the possibility of trustee burnout and taking steps to proactively address it.



If you answered yes to 10 or more questions: Your board is in need of a formal self-assessment.

BoardSource offers an online tool that has helped thousands of board determine where they need improvement and suggests steps to help them make the necessary changes.

There may be one or more other problematic issues to address.

First, boards that don't follow effective meeting practices and fail to make good use of board members' time and skills risk losing their engagement. Ensure that your board meetings include time for discussing strategic issues beyond routine, administrative matters. Second, board members may simply be exhausted. Now might be the time to take a hard look at each board member's tenure. Are there trustees who should be rotated off the board? Would the board benefit from an infusion of fresh ideas and energy that new members can bring?

Do a board matrix: List the skills, demographics, and tenure of your board, and decide whether the board you have is the board that your organization needs. If you don't have an active governance committee to lead the way, maybe it is time to form one. For a simple board matrix and more ideas to refresh your board, read The Board Building Cycle: Nine Steps to Finding, Recruiting, and Engaging Nonprofit Board Members.

No matter how your organization scored on this quiz, it's always a good idea to assess your board's engagement and performance at least once a year, perhaps at an annual board retreat. Your organization will benefit from being sensitive to the possibility of trustee burnout and taking steps to proactively address it.