Building Capacity in Nonprofit Boards: Learning from Board Self-Assessments


  • Judith L. Millesen College of Charleston
  • Joanne G. Carman University of North Carolina, Charlotte



Nonprofit Governance, Self-Assessment, Capacity Building


Boards of directors of nonprofit charitable organizations have long been responsible for serving essential purposes and performing critical agency functions. Given these responsibilities, it seems reasonable to expect that a periodic review of a board’s capacity to effectively govern a nonprofit charitable organization be conducted. Using data collected from 800 individuals serving as board members of 42 different performing arts nonprofits, this study reports on board member evaluations of their individual and collective participation in the governance process through a self-assessment undertaken to inform decision-making and build capacity at both the board and organizational levels. Findings suggest the need for more (or better) training/orientation opportunities; focused, intentional, and tailored recruitment processes; clear communication, greater role clarity, and specificity regarding board performance expectations; greater understanding about best practices and the need to add value; and time to cultivate openness and collegiality among the board members and between the board and staff.

Author Biographies

  • Judith L. Millesen, College of Charleston

    Judith (Judy) Millesen joined the College of Charleston in January 2018. She currently serves as the MPA director and teaches classes on public administration and nonprofit management.  Her research makes a strong link between theory and practice and focuses on nonprofit administration and capacity building in the sector with special interests in board governance and community philanthropy. She has produced research reports on the strategic decision-making behavior of community foundation boards, nonprofit capacity-building in the Pittsburgh region, the evaluation practices of nonprofits in New York and Ohio, board motivation in Maine, and most recently work on philanthropy and community economic development in central Wisconsin. Her work has appeared in such journals as Journal of Public Affairs Education, Nonprofit Management and Leadership, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Nonprofit Quarterly, Public Integrity, and Voluntas. Millesen received her MPA from the University of Hartford and her Ph.D. in public administration from the University at Albany (SUNY).

  • Joanne G. Carman, University of North Carolina, Charlotte

    Joanne G. Carman is Associate Professor and the Coordinator for the Graduate Certificate in the Nonprofit Management program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her research has appeared in a variety of journals including American Journal of Evaluation, Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation, International Review of Public Administration, Nonprofit Management and Leadership, and Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly.






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