Let’s talk about evaluations.
They are vital to your organization and yet I see so many nonprofits neglect them either because they have trouble making the time to get them done, they fear upsetting already overworked staff and board, or a host of other reasons, some good some bad.
Today I am challenging you not to let another fiscal year pass without completing these. So let’s get to it….
Why is this important?
It’s oh so important, friends! This is one area we should take a page from our for-profit business brethren and make it a priority. Because they do and they get things done, make money, and by and large reward high-performers and ditch habitual low-performers who weigh them down.
I promise you, evaluations will build a stronger foundation for your nonprofit. Here’s a quick snapshot of just some of the things they will accomplish:
- Recognize achievements
- Give people a roadmap for growth and improvement
- Set up a fair process for getting problematic staff out the door
- Serve as a way to take the “temperature” of the organization as a whole and show you how healthy it is
Lots of good reasons, right? But it’s not enough to do them once and never again or neglect them for the next 5 years.
You need to do this every year. Yes, really.
Sorry to pile on the work, but this is one area that should be an annual priority. If you want all the benefits and metrics stated above, you gotta commit.
Set aside a few days to focus.
If you are the Executive Director or other staff member in charge of organizing and running evaluations, you’ll want to do this right. Set aside one day for you to review your strategic plan, organizational goals, goals set for staff and board last time it was discussed etc.
Use that information to create a new set of priorities and goals for the organization, the board, and for individual staff this year. You want to make sure that you’re going into these discussions with focus and with intended outcomes so that the discussions lead to actionable and useful plans.
You will also want a day or two (depending on staff and board size) to actually schedule and complete discussions with staff and board. And of course, document everything and file it. You know I’m a stickler for organization, but it will always save you headaches in the long run.
Start with Staff Evaluations….
Personally, I like to get staff evaluations out of the way first since this is the piece that typically takes the most time (although if you’re a startup or very small nonprofit, this may not be the case for you).
In order for staff evaluations to be as effective as possible, you’ll need to have laid the groundwork by ensuring that each employee has a thorough job description that they are aware of and has signed off on. Ideally, they would have done that when they were hired. But if your organization didn’t have those in place, it’s time to get busy writing up actual job descriptions and having staff review and sign them prior to their evaluation meetings.
With that out of the way, you will want to examine a few key areas to focus on for these staff discussions:
- Areas of individual strength
- Opportunities for individual growth
- Recognition of great work achieved last year
- Actionable goals and benchmarks for this year
This should give you a pretty clear guide for making these meetings concise and effective. But you also want to make sure that nothing you are saying to a staff member is coming as a surprise. If there are things they needed to work on, hopefully you’ve been talking with them throughout the year. If not, go easy, because they can’t be expected to fix something they aren’t aware of and it underlines a weakness in the organization’s approach to staff development.
Next up is the board….
Board evaluations are a bit different than staff evaluations, but you need some similar foundational elements in place. Namely, you should have a strategic vision guiding the decisions and goals of the board throughout the year and a board agreement outlining each member’s expectations (they should have signed this when they joined).
If those things aren’t in place, then you have a little homework to do before you can expect to have really meaningful discussions about board performance.
If you do have these elements in place, then you may be asking what the best method for board evaluation actually is. After all, it wouldn’t really be appropriate for any member of staff to evaluate the board so instead look to give a self-assessment as the primary tool.
My recommendation is to create a Google Form that can be sent out and which they can complete anonymously. I would suggest suggest incorporating some of the following questions into the form:
- What issues do they need more information on in order to make informed decisions?
- Do they understand their role on the board?
- Are expectations for board members clear?
- Do they feel they can adequately execute their duties? If not, why not?
- Do they believe the board has been able to achieve its goals this year?
- What do they think is the biggest challenge facing the board?
- What do they think is the biggest opportunity for growth or progress facing the board?
- How do they feel about their interactions with staff?
- How do they feel about staff performance?
Give board members a day or two to complete these and turn them in. While they are working on that, the ED should also do some work to evaluate board members. He or she can give valuable feedback on support they need from board members, where they see board members stepping up or falling down on the job, etc. For this I like Joan Garry’s Big BAT tool. Go ahead and check it out.
All assessments should then be reviewed by the board chair and ED together to identify problems, areas of confusion, areas of growth, and what can be done to help improve board engagement and performance going forward.
And finally, let’s end with evaluating the Executive Director…..
Executive Director performance reviews should be handled by the board chair, but that doesn’t mean that the chair should be the only one involved in giving input. Since the ED is a sort of nexus point between board and staff, I am a fan of 360 degree evaluations for EDs because you’ll get input from a variety of perspectives. However, I feel I should state that many people don’t like 360 evaluations because, when done wrong, they can be an opportunity to attack the ED, to give feedback that isn’t actionable (and therefore not useful), or give feedback that is unfocused or irrelevant. If you want to do a 360 it may be worth your while to engage a coach the first time to guide you through it and really get it right.
So let’s talk a bit about what a 360 evaluation is. You give one form to the board with questions relevant to their interactions with the ED and ask them to fill it out anonymously, only identifying that they are a board member. Next, you create a separate form with questions relevant to staff/ED interactions and let staff fill it out anonymously, only identifying that they are staff. One quick caveat: if you have less than 2 or 3 staff members, you may want to only give out one form and word the questions so that they can be applicable to staff or board. I say this because it can be too easy to identify any staff member who may bring up a grievance, and they will either not feel free to give truthful answers or they could leave themselves open to retaliation if they need to give negative feedback that may not be received well.
Once all surveys have been completed they should be compiled by the board chair, who should set a meeting to go over everything with the ED. As with staff, in advance of these evaluations the ED should have a thorough job description in place that they’ve seen and understand and have annual goals that they were attempting to achieve.
Key areas to focus on in the ED evaluation are the same as those listed above for regular staff. The only difference being that there will be more material to cover due to the added interaction with the board and community.
Suggestions & tools to help you get it done:
You all know I love tools that either automate or make things easier so here are a few recommendations for things you can try out so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or waste precious time.
PRO TIP: Don’t forget that you can also use Zapier to create some custom zaps to put results into a spreadsheet, further helping you identify trends and areas of focus.
There you have it.
I hope this was useful and you’re already starting to schedule and put things in place now so that when your fiscal year ends you’ll be ready to conduct some really meaningful evaluations.