Evaluating the Executive Director: The Board Chairperson’s Role

The Executive Director or the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the non-profit organization is responsible and accountable for the administration of the organization’s internal operations as well as the delivery of services to the community. Who is responsible and accountable for monitoring and evaluating the executive’s role in the agency? In general it is usually the board of directors, however, the entire board cannot conduct an evaluation, so in most cases it is turned over to the chairperson of the board or the president of the organization.

It is good practice for there to be job descriptions for each of the professionals employed as well as the lay leaders involved in the organization. This is not only a description of the role played by the person but also it becomes a “yardstick” by which to evaluate the person’s performance during their involvement in the organization. Each person should have the opportunity to review their standing in the non-profit, whether they are lay leader or a professional.

In most well run organizations this is done annually, and is sometimes used for the basis of providing annual increase in compensation. It has been found to be particularly helpful for the employee to receive an assessment of their work on behalf of the non-profit. An assessment often includes a discussion of the job description and whether it continues to be relevant. In some organizations where a number of the same employees have been involved with the organization for many years much is taken for granted and it is even more important to conduct an annual review of the employee’s professional performance and commitment to the organization.

The same holds true for lay leaders who have been volunteering in the same positions for a long time. Whether we are discussing a vice-president, a chairperson of a committee, or the volunteers who fill positions because they want to make a contribution, there should be a way of having a yearly assessment of their activities on behalf of the non-profit. Whatever the case may be, there should be a way acknowledging the person’s achievements on behalf of the organization.

Board members should have the chance to assess their involvement with and their process of learning on the job. Their commitment and investment in strengthening the organization is felt by those who facilitate the organization’s governance. The board chairperson can use a process similar to what is used by a professional when reviewing the contributions of staff members.

When it comes to the executive of the organization we are talking about very sensitive issues. The process should be well planned with the chairperson of the board or the president of the organization, and it is important for there to be direct communication with the executive. Simultaneously this should be both an assessment process and a learning process for those involved. For this reason it has to start with a clearly written job description that lends itself to defining and evaluating specific aspects of the position.

Given the close relationship between the head volunteer and the Executive Director, it is possible for there to be an open frank discussion that reviews all aspect of the executive’s functions and provides a written document focusing on the positive aspects of the assessment while at the same time defining those areas of professional performance which need to be strengthened in the coming year. When there has been a good working relationship between the chair and executive there should be no surprises and this discussion should be a summary of their work together.

From year to year, as there is continuity to the evaluative process, the broader picture of the executive’s performance and this history provides both people with the opportunity to reinforce the executive’s contribution, to the agency and the community and points out the need for changes in the way the chief professional is functioning. When there is a lack of an annual assessment then there is the potential for a lack of mutual trust between the executive and the board, including the board chairperson.

It does not matter who initiates the process of assessing the performance of the executive and both parties are encouraged to discuss with each other when the executive begins working for the organization. It not only serves to clarify the CEO’s standing with the agency and the board of directors, but also is an example of “best practice” within the agency.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.