In the thirty plus years of working in the nonprofit sector I have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly that can occur in this field. I’m not saying that those traits are solely characteristic of nonprofits. Oh no, not at all, but in some way the public expects more and better of nonprofits and that is definitely a good thing.
With expecting more as my guide I’d like to continue with a series focusing on good governance.
Today’s post will start at the top: Assessment of the executive director.
I’ll begin with a story about my first position as an executive director. At the time of my hiring there wasn’t much of a job description beyond run the center and raise funds to keep the doors open.
Previously I had been a public school teacher and had employee expectations based on that experience: clearly stated responsibilities for my position and an evaluation every year to confirm I was performing well. Around the six-month into my position I went to the board president and asked when to expect an assessment of my work. The response was “What? Why?” The board had never done one before, which might have been the reason why I was the sixth executive director in the organization’s five year history!
Point of my story? Because I didn’t want any surprises (as in ‘here’s your pink slip’), I wanted the board to identify what they expected of me and support me through the learning curve.
- Don’t be afraid of being evaluated by your board.
- Ask if they don’t bring it up first.
- Go into the evaluation with a positive attitude.
- You have a right to be involved and informed throughout the process.
- Don’t be timid, evaluating your organization’s executive director is one of your Ten Basic Responsibilities.
- An assessment clarifies expectations between the board and the E.D.
- It should also foster growth and development of the E.D. and the organization.
- Give the E.D. a heads-up that an assessment is in the works, engage him/her in the process if none is already in place.
- Include a face-to-face with the E.D. with questions and time for them to respond.
- Don’t have a closed-door executive committee meeting before the above – that’s scary to the E.D.!
- Provide, in writing, the board’s consensus of the E.D.’s work. There are several templates available for assessment in the form of questions, surveys and self-evaluation which will make this responsibility manageable for any board.
- Resources to help nonprofit boards begin, or improve their E.D. evaluation are available at the PCNRC.
An annual assessment need not be a major undertaking every year.
Depending on your organization it may not be necessary to do a thorough assessment every twelve months. Intersperse a full evaluation on alternate years with a less formal verbal evaluation and discussion between your executive director with the board chair or governing committee. Be sure to have a written record of the meeting.
There are several templates available for assessment in the form of questions, surveys and self-evaluation which will make this responsibility manageable for any board.
- National Center for Nonprofit Boards – Executive Director Evaluation
- First Nonprofit Foundation – Evaluating the Executive Director: Your Role as a Board Member
- BoardSource: Board Responsibilities and Structures – FAQs (PDF)