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The Governance Self-Assessment Checklist and the Director's Self-Evaluation Checklists have been developed to assist boards in strengthening their governance capacity.



360 Degree Evaluations


The primary purpose of the GSAC (Checklist) is to help the board and senior manager(s) reflect upon and discuss their duties, how well members of the board of directors work together and what added value they bring to the effective performance of the organization. The Checklist was designed as both an educational and self-diagnostic tool. It is not intended to provide a definitive statement of a board's performance, but to identify areas of strength and provide some indication of areas that might require attention or improvement. We expect that completion of this Checklist and our interpretation of results will stimulate introspection, open discussion, a common resolve to address areas that need attention, to celebrate those aspects of governance which are already performed satisfactorily, and to instill a commitment to excellence in governance.

The CHECKLIST contains items identified as factors in the performance of a non-profit board of directors that are perceived to contribute to the effectiveness of the organization that they govern. They include areas of Board Structure (how the board is constructed and the parameters it establishes for its operation), Board Responsibilities (the 'what' of governance), Board Processes ('how' governance functions are exercised) and Board Culture (board dynamics/organizational context).

The GSAC is organized into 12 subscales as follows:

  1. Board Effectiveness 'Quick Check' : this subscale consists of 15 items that have been identified in the literature as particularly closely related to successful governance. The Quick Check is thus intended to provide a brief stand-alone "snapshot" of governance effectiveness, which may be especially useful for small non-profits that may prefer a simpler form of self-evaluation. It does not, in itself, provide the level of discrimination that would be required to assist a board in developing a strategy to improve its governance . (Note: The 'Quick Check' is available on CD ROM along with the 'Director's Self-Evaluation Checklist'. See Comprehensive Bylaws and Governance Policies: Ordering Instructions.)
  2. Board Structure : assesses the extent to which the board has the clarity of structure necessary for effective governance, including bylaws, policies, and role descriptions.
  3. Board Culture : examines board dynamics, organizational values, communication styles, and degree of trust.
  4. Board Responsibilities: this section consists of 6 subscales that cover the "what" of governance:
  5. Mission and Planning : measures the level of board engagement in planning, agreement on direction, and clarity of objectives.
  6. Financial Stewardship : assesses the degree to which the board scrutinizes finances and the existence of sound financial practices as well as the extent to which the board maintains a degree of objectivity and independence from management.
  7. Human Resources Stewardship : taps the level of board support for the executive director, its evaluation of his/her performance, and its oversight of other human resources practices such as board and senior management succession planning.
  8. Performance Monitoring and Accountability : evaluates the care with which the board monitors information and results, the adequacy of the board's accountability to stakeholders, and the extent to which it ensures fair dispute-resolution processes.
  9. Community Representation and Advocacy : assesses communication practices, stakeholder input and whether nomination processes generate board membership that adequately represents community diversity.
  10. Risk Management : evaluates the regularity of review of bylaws and policies, compliance with these and with relevant legislation, and safeguarding against financial and other risks.
  11. Board Processes and Practices: this section includes 3 subscales covering "how" governance functions are exercised:
  12. Board Development : assesses practices related to recruitment and orientation of board members, team building, and board self-assessment.
    1. Board Management : evaluates conflict management, respect for roles, and distribution of work and power.
    2. Decision-Making : assesses whether the board makes decisions related to its responsibilities based on factual information, in a transparent way, and with broad participation.

Supplementary Scales

There is also a test of respondent perceptions of the overall effectiveness of the board and the organization regularly administered as part of the survey. However, this is independent of the GSAC instrument itself.

Organizations may also ask for responses to as many as 15 additional supplementary questions that they believe may be unique to their organization. There will be an additional fee for this service.

How long will it take to complete?

The GSAC is available only via internet. It takes about 30 to 40 minutes to complete the comprehensive version of the GSAC online including the information about you and your organization requested at the beginning of the Checklist. The Quick Check takes about 5 minutes.


Once the checklist has been returned the results will be evaluated and you will be provided with a report with tables displaying the results and a generic interpretation to assist your board in its self-evaluation. The comprehensive version of the GSAC provides several lenses through which to analyze board and staff perceptions of how well an organization is governed.

These are:

•  An overall 'governance quotient'

•  Comparison of board, CEO and senior staff responses on key governance dimensions addressed in the 12 GSAC subscales

•  Comparison of board and CEO responses to normative responses drawn from over 50 organizations that have used the GSAC, regularly updated with data from each new organization

•  Variances between the high and low scores of individual board members on each of the subscales

•  Identification of the highest and lowest ratings by the board and CEO in each subscale

•  Identification of specific scale items that elicited a 'Don't Know' response by the board or CEO in order of frequency of this response for a particular item

•  Identification of all items that received a score of one or less (Disagree or Disagree Strongly)

The interpretation of GSAC results assumes that the reliability of the results increases with the degree of congruence or convergence of results between these several tests.


Responses of individual board members and individual senior managers, other than the ED/CEO, will not be identified in our reports. Results for your organization will remain confidential to you, and Synergy. Responses from your organization will be added anonymously to a database with responses from other organizations to assist us in expanding the database from which normative values for the GSAC are derived.


Use of the GSAC and the reports is subject to a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement.


Contact mel.gill@synergyassociates.ca or (613) 837-8757 for information about fees.


This paper describes the development and validation of the Governance Self-Assessment Checklist (GSAC). The GSAC was designed to assist boards of directors of non-profit and public-sector organizations to identify strengths and weaknesses in the governance of their organizations, educate board members about the essentials of good governance, and improve their governance practices. The instrument is comprised of 146 items organized into 12 subscales. The GSAC was developed from a review of the literature on governance practices and organizational effectiveness, assumptions about "best practice" embedded within other board-effectiveness assessment tools, and the first author's personal board and management experience and governance case studies (Gill, 2001). Two hundred and eighty one board members and 31 executive directors from 32 nonprofit agencies participated in the present study. External, independent observers rated the effectiveness of 27 of the organizations. The results indicated that the 12 GSAC subscales have excellent internal consistency reliability (i.e., high Cronbach's alpha coefficients), exhibit good criterion-related validity (in being moderately to strongly related to external and internal ratings of organizational effectiveness), and are able to discriminate between stronger and weaker aspects of board functioning. The relative strengths and weaknesses in board effectiveness (as perceived by board members themselves) were identified, and the implications of the findings for the assessment of board effectiveness and field applications of the GSAC were discussed.

Authors : Mel Gill, President, Synergy Associates; Dr. Robert Flynn, Co-Director, Centre for Research on Community Services, University of Ottawa; Dr. Elke Reissing, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Psychology, University of Ottawa.


The Director's Self-Evaluation Checklist has been developed to help individual board members and the board chair assess the 'added value' that board members bring to the organization, whether they have met the expectations set by the board when they took their place at the boardroom table and whether they continue to be committed to serving on the board. This checklist is based on the legal obligations that bind directors of nonprofit, public and private sector corporations and director conduct recommended by research on effective boards. (Note: The 'Director's Self-Evaluation Checklist' is available on CD ROM along with the 'Quick Check'. See Comprehensive Bylaws and Governance Policies: Ordering Instructions. )

360 Degree Evaluations

Synergy also offers 360 degree evaluations for boards, directors, CEOs and senior management teams related to Executive Leadership, Executive competencies and Leadership Practices.

360 degree evaluations offer confidential multi-rater feedback from superiors, peers and subordinates. The reports based on anonymous feedback help the participants identify task/skill strengths as well as areas for improvement in relation to a specific set of competencies in the task/talent cycle, a validated theory of leadership and management roles.

Copyright 2004 Synergy Associates Inc.  All Rights Reserved