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The Board's Executive Director Performance Appraisal

The most important job of a nonprofit board is hiring a superior executive director and then evaluating his or her performance to ensure that excellence is maintained in carrying out the organization's mission, goals and objectives. The entire board--not just the board president or personnel committee--should be involved in the process. What all too often happens is that the decision is given to a committee and no follow-up or evaluation takes place for years. Once the director is hired, the board should work with him or her to establish yearly goals and objectives. These are reviewed each year as part of his or her performance evaluation and then updated for the following year.

Your role as a board member is to plan the general direction in which you want your organization to go. The role of your executive director is to take your strategic goals and plan the day-to-day events accordingly. If your board is thorough and diligent in making policy, writing plans and hiring the best executive director it can find, there should be no reason for you to be involved in your director's job. Interfering with your executive director's job not only creates more work for the board; it also undermines the director's authority and sends conflicting messages about who is in charge.

An executive director must have clear communication with his or her board to make effective day-to-day decisions. As a board member, you should feel free to voice your questions and concerns to him or her directly but not to his or her staff. Although the board is responsible for monitoring and evaluating the executive director, it has no such commitment to staff. In fact, you should deal with staff issues very cautiously, unless asked by the executive director to participate with staff on a particular project.

Staff management is the responsibility of your executive director -- the person accountable for staff's daily actions. If you are unhappy with your director's performance or management style, this should be dealt with in the yearly performance appraisal.

Executive Director Performance Appraisal Procedure
Your board has the responsibility to evaluate your executive director to determine if he or she is meeting his or her own goals and organizational goals, and to provide feedback and communication regarding his/her strengths and areas in need of improvement. There are a number of different processes a board can use for the performance appraisal: some boards may want feedback from staff, clients, funders or other stakeholders; others may do what is known as a 360 approach (feedback from the full circle surrounding the director). Zimmerman Lehman insists on a careful review of how such feedback is gathered. Anonymous surveys do not always promote honest and open communication.

Zimmerman Lehman recommends the following procedure:

To begin the process, a board committee--the personnel committee, the executive committee or a special committee designed for this purpose--should be given the tasks of conveying the board's comments and meeting with the director. It is not recommended that the entire board meet at once with the director; an executive session to review comments would be appropriate. Board members should review the executive director's job description and written goals from the previous year, comment on his or her performance in the areas below and make suggestions for the coming year. The director should also review his or her own previous goals and prepare a list of new ones. If there are no previous year's goals, these will need to be created by both the committee -- with full board approval -- and your director. The committee solicits comments from the entire board. Some organizations use a form; if you do not have one, areas to consider include:
  • Leadership
  • Management (including initiative and follow-through)
  • Planning (mission and vision, assessing needs)
  • Program implementation " Fiscal reporting & budgeting
  • Fundraising
  • Communication and public relations
  • Professionalism

The board's comments should be summarized by the committee, which then meets with the director. During the evaluation meeting with the executive director, review the board's comments with him or her--and allow the executive director to respond. The committee and the director together should set new annual goals. An additional meeting to iron out any differences may be necessary, and final approval of the new goals should be made by the entire board.

When the evaluation process is complete, board members should review its success. What worked? What procedures could be improved next time?

Copyright 2007 Zimmerman Lehman.

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Copyright © 2005, Zimmerman Lehman