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July 23, 2012
Mission Accomplished? The Why and How of Performance Reviews.



“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Abraham Lincoln

After the CEO/Executive Director has been chosen, the process of leadership has just begun. Now comes the real work. Supporting your CEO/ED and providing them with an honest assessment of their work are critical to great leadership.


This should come as no surprise, but the CEO/ED can only be as effective as the team surrounding him or her; they provide leadership, but they should not be the only one creating or implementing all of the strategies and tactics that make for a successful organization. They need help. So supporting them and following their direction is necessary from all levels of the nonprofit, from the board down to individual staffers and volunteers.

Strong and vocal support of the right CEO/ED is critical for his or her personal and professional development, as well as the organization’s success. Support shows that you value the work they are doing and recognize that the organization is benefiting from it. As a result, the CEO/ED is more likely to stay. This is ever more critical as finding good Chief Executives is increasingly difficult.

The board (and especially the board chair) should ensure that the chief executive has the moral and professional support he or she needs to further the goals of the organization. Without this support, it’s easy for the chief executive to feel isolated and alone. This can be as simple as responding to emails, coming to board meetings prepared, or taking and returning phone calls.


Evaluating the CEO/ED is a primary responsibility of the board, and for good reason. This regular review of the CEO/ED helps ensures that the organization has the right person in place to further the mission. It ensures that organizational goals are being met, new goals are being set, and the CEO/ED is growing professionally. It also helps set the appropriate compensation for the CEO/ED.

Reviews should be done annually, and the evaluation process should be formal and documented to ensure that it meets standards of fairness and practicality. Managing the process in this way also leaves written record of the board's impression of the chief executive's performance. This record can be necessary for a number of different reasons down the road, such as salary increases, probationary activities or in the worst case scenario, firing.

You should note that most CEO/EDs that I work with are quite eager to be evaluated, since they cannot know how they are truly performing without a review process. They want documentation of their performance - and also a development plan to improve upon it. But many boards are uncomfortable with the process so they avoid it. Don’t be scared to evaluate!


It should go without saying that evaluations should be done with the utmost integrity and honesty in the process. There should undoubtedly be some (or much!) good, but also some areas identified that need further development.

When reviewing your CEO/ED, you need to be aware of any internal politics that may affect the process, such as a board member who is on the opposite side of a hot button issue – and could use the performance review at their platform against the CEO. For this reason and others, reviews shouldn’t be based solely on opinions, but as objective as possible.

Though a general sense of the leadership ability of the executive will certainly emerge through generalized assessment, reviews should primarily be made against set standards; of things that can be measured. Don’t turn the review into a popularity contest rather than a results-based process.

Be sure when conducting a performance review that you are evaluating based on facts and give the opportunity for the CEO/ED to respond. Recently, a client received a review from her board. She felt much of the information was incorrect and went through board meeting minutes to show what she was instructed to do. When she submitted the rebuttal no one responded leaving her very frustrated and feeling attacked. The CEO/ED, a great leader, submitted her resignation shortly afterwards.


There are many individual questions and answers that can be used to evaluate a chief executive. Some of the most effective that I have found over the years include:

Did the CEO/ED accomplish the goals set by the Board for the performance period?

How well does the ED understand the mission and strategy of the organization, and then translate them into action?

How well has the ED hired and developed staff members?How satisfied are you with the morale of the staff and volunteers?

Does the ED fully understand the organizations programs and services?

Does the ED ensure that programs/services are high quality?How satisfied are you with the fundraising ability of the ED?

How knowledgeable is the ED on financial matters?

Are you satisfied with how the ED makes financial decisions?Are the operations policies in place satisfactory? Any changes needed?

Is the ED professional?

Does the ED have good communications and provide a good environment for staff?

Is the ED maintaining a positive reputation in the community?

How has the ED responded to unexpected challenges or opportunities?

What are 3+ strengths you see in the ED?

What other ways does the ED contribute to the success of the organization?

Remember that these questions should be asked in a way so that they can be answered with measureable results. The goals set forth to answer them favorably should be well documented and understood by all parties. This can avoid frustration, misunderstanding and headaches at review time.

Once the review is complete, key areas for professional development should be identified and goals should be considered for the next review period. By supporting the CEO of your nonprofit with the right resources, and providing timely feedback and constructive advice on their performance, you are making a positive impact on the future success of your organization!

Next: Essential #4 - Ensure Effective Planning

Posted by Tiffany Applegate on July 23, 2012 at 2:01 PM
Categories: Board Governance
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