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Assessing & Supporting the Nonprofit Executive

Several months ago, I featured a series of short essays on “Board Essentials.”  They covered four topics:

  1. Parameters of board governance
  2. Role of the nonprofit board
  3. Strategic work of the board
  4. The board as hub of the nonprofit

Today, I’m writing about the board’s role in assessing and supporting the CEO of the nonprofit.  Performance review is a Board Essential that’s easy to neglect.  Every year, or every other year, there is likely a new chair/president of the board. Rotation of officers can create a situation where CEO assessment can get overlooked.  It’s important to have a reliable, annual process in place that engages the whole board in the process.

I advise my clients to have the CEO start the process with a report on his/her achievements in the past year, highlighting things of importance that need attention next year.  This self-assessment should be based on the job description.  And any items flagged last year that were to be attended to in the year now coming to a close.  So there’s a cycle to this.  And it’s a priority for the elected chair of the board.

There’s a deadline for submission of the CEO self-assessment report.  The board chair forms a small work group or the executive committee or an ad hoc personnel committee to do the follow-up work with the CEO.  The full board is apprised of the process and is asked to discuss and then vote it’s agreement, or not.  Once a process is set and the CEO report is in hand, the committee meets.  The group discusses the CEO report.  Do they agree with the assessment?  Do they want more information?  When they’re ready (within two weeks of receiving the report), the board chair arranges a meeting of the committee with the CEO.  There’s an open discussion.  Things that went well are identified. Things that need some attention are also identified.  Do all parties agree?  The chair prepares an executive summary for the board which is confidential and between the board and the CEO.  Staff input to this process might be sought if the group feels it will be desirable and helpful.  But the board should plan and implement this element with care.  The idea is not to have staff evaluate their CEO’s performance.  This can easily devolve into “end around” activity that undermines the CEO authority in the staff relationship.  Having a person on the board with strong HR experience who can help organize this so the outcome is viewed as helpful and constructive to the volunteers as well as to the CEO.

BoardSource is a good place to go for best practice tools in facilitating this process.  Their publication Assessing and Supporting Your Chief Executive is an excellent e-document to purchase and use as a guide.

The idea is not to allow “we always did it this way” to set in.  Change is good. Change is healthy.  Finding ways to institutionalize change so it’s productive and not destabilizing can help keep the nonprofit performing at its max capabilities and not get stuck in old, tired ways of operating.

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