Importance of Assessments

In Evaluations by Geoff Burns

When your board of directors gets together, do you ever assess your organization?  If the answer is “no,” then you need to make it a priority. Highly functional non-profit organizations do many things but today I want to focus on just one of them. The assessment is a tool that helps to determine strengths and weaknesses of the organization. An assessment is a systematic approach to data collection on specific points.

Data collected during an assessment is then analyzed and ultimately used to draw conclusions about the status of the organization in the areas the assessment covers. A general rule is to start with a comprehensive organizational assessment which covers 10-20 questions about all aspects of an organization. In reality, the comprehensive assessment is a series of specifically directed assessments compiled in to a whole. These should include Legal, Board Governance, Human Resources (if applicable), Fundraising, Executive Director, Financial, Programming, Marketing, Strategic Planning, etc.

Before picking a tool at random, it is important to determine the focus of the tool. As mentioned before, this is where you determine what component you are going to assess. Next, determine the purpose. Why are you doing this? Is it to define your organization? Are you trying to compare to other organizations? Do you need to see how your organization compares to “best practices?”

After the purpose comes the assumptions. Does the tool assume the board is the initial board? Does the tool assume that you have seasoned staff and volunteers? After matching the assumptions to your organization, determine who the audience is.

Who is going to read the results? Is this assessment for the board? Staff? Funders? Community? Also consider who is going to administer the assessment. Is this process going to be “in house,” or will you hire a consultant or some other outside person? Who will participate? Will board members be required to participate or will the assessment be purely random? Will you have a weighted scale based on who answers or will the assessment be completely anonymous?

Before making the final decision as to which tool to use, you also need to know if you have enough information to make sense of the results and how to apply them. Make sure you know if this tool can be reused, how long it will take to use, and if there are only certain times it can be used.

Cost is another area of possible concern. There are many tools available online and in books. Many of these tools can give you a good starting point if you need one. See at the bottom of this post for links to some useful tools. Some companies may custom design you a tool to fit your needs, but these can be costly and may not be available in the time you want to use the tool.

Make sure that you have the support you need before administering the tool. If someone has a question or concern, be ready to contact tech support if need be. Be prepared to modify the tool. As your organization changes, grows, and otherwise evolves, the needs and the areas which need assessment will change as well. A versatile tool should be easily modified and adaptable to your changing needs. Just remember to check to see if you need to get permission to modify or adapt a tool. Some online tools are free if you acknowledge the author. Some permit you to modify under the same circumstances. Other tools, are to be used as is and only with permission of the author. Know the restrictions on your tool before using. You may need to consult legal advice or contact the author prior to use.

Here are a couple of links to general assessments for your organization

http://www.lapiana.org/downloads/Start-Up_Assessment_Tool.pdf

http://surveys.wilder.org/fieldstone/lifestages/

http://www.greenlights.org/applications/DocumentLibraryManager/upload/Discussion%20Questions%20for%20Board%20Self-Assessment.pdf

http://www.managementhelp.org/org_eval/uw_list.htm#anchor149020