A Simple Way to Conduct an Executive Director Performance Review

simple executive director performance review

Time and time again, I see boards dropping the ball on one of the single most important responsibilities they have – the annual performance evaluation of their staff leader.

It just plain makes me mad.

I do kinda get it when board members balk at fundraising. But an annual performance review? Really?

When I ask board members how they would feel if their bosses (at their day job) did that, I get the answer you’d expect. That would never happen.

In my executive coaching work with clients, it is so clear to me that Executive Directors do not receive the feedback they need to feel supported and to grow and develop in their roles.

I ask: When were you last reviewed?

I hear: Does a 20-minute coffee with the board chair count?

I hear: The board really doesn’t know what I do. How could they evaluate me fairly? I’d prefer not to hear what they have to say.

I hear: I had to all but harass my board chair to do SOMETHING. It was like 3 months late and kind of lame.

I hear: I was reviewed informally by the board chair before this one. Or maybe the one before that one.

I hear: Reviewed?

I believe there are many reasons that boards don’t conduct performance reviews – I outline a few of them here.

But let’s assume for the purpose of this post that it just all seems too overwhelming. Board members don’t know where to begin.

In that spirit I offer you a recipe for an effective, and very simple Executive Director performance review.


Step 1: DO NOT FORGET your E.D.’s anniversary date and mark your calendar for 6 weeks prior.

Step 2: Send an email (better yet pick up the phone) and tell your E.D. that you are going to embark on a simple straightforward evaluation process. Your E.D. will be so happy that you didn’t forget. And commit to your E.D. that a self-evaluation will be a part of the process.

Step 3: Walk the E.D. through the process below. Make sure s/he is comfortable with it and adds her/his two cents. Can’t tell you how many boards just do some kind of evaluation and the E.D. is totally and completely in the dark. Yes, it is the board’s process, but leaving the staff leader out of it is not how this should roll.


Do I think it makes good sense to invest in a more detailed, formal process? Yes. Do I believe in the value of 360-degree reviews? I definitely do.

But if you start to think about this as a complex process, it will paralyze you and voila. No performance review. And then your staff leader sits at her desk feeling as if the board does not value her enough to offer annual feedback.

We don’t want this. So here’s an easy way to begin the routine. Next year, you can do something more formal.

––> Download the 10-Step Evaluation Process

Step 1: Create an evaluation team – at least one other person but preferably 2 – 3. As board chair, you should not do this solo. Tell the group it will be a simple process.

Step 2: Find the job description you worked so hard on when you went looking for this E.D. you are evaluating. Using this job description create a Word document with spaces between each responsibility and each attribute. Voila! You have an evaluation form AND a self-evaluation form for the E.D.

Step 3: Did you by any chance work with your E.D. to create annual goals (she asks hopefully)? If so, create a second or third page to your Word doc with those goals listed. Voila! An even better evaluation form.

Step 4: Meet with the team and create a timetable. Work backwards. When do you want the review to be done (hint: BEFORE the anniversary date)? Back into milestones. When do you want the self-evaluation back from the E.D.? If you are asking all board members to weigh in, give them a date (with ample time for someone to synthesize the results.)

Step 5: With the self-evaluation and board member synthesis in hand, your committee meets for a solid 90 minutes and compares the self-evaluation with the board synthesis. Where is there alignment? Where are there key differences? Look at the goals in the same way. Then craft talking points for the real time conversation that should occur between the board chair and the E.D.

Step 6: You’ll need a volunteer to write something. It should be carefully and diplomatically written. It will be handed to your E.D. and every word will be scrutinized.

Step 7: Meet IN PERSON. Set aside TWO HOURS. Walk through the document that the committee sent to the E.D. that synthesizes board feedback and compares that with the self-evaluation. The outcome of this meeting should be a shared understanding of the plusses and deltas re: performance and areas of focus for the coming year. Those areas of focus should be written in an email follow up from the board chair to the Executive Director so that the E.D. can then draft annual goals.

Step 8: Executive Director submits goals to the board chair and the two shape them for presentation to the full board.

Step 9: Evaluation Committee should then meet once more to talk about compensation and any increase for the coming year. If your organization is not in a position to add compensation (financial issues), the board should develop some other non-financial ways to reward a strong performance. The compensation should be approved by at least the Executive Committee of the board.

Step 10: Board chair meets IN PERSON to discuss compensation. Follow up in writing along with an appreciation of the E.D’s service during the past twelve months.

All ten steps should be complete on or before the anniversary date.


  • Reach out to the E.D. before the E.D. hears crickets and has to pester the board to do an evaluation.
  • The written document that compares board feedback with the self-evaluation should be written with care and diplomacy.
  • The actual meeting to review this document should happen IN PERSON and TWO HOURS should be allowed.
  • If the organization cannot legitimately afford to increase the E.D. compensation, please consider non-financial rewards for strong performance.
  • Complete all of this (including compensation) by the E.D.’s anniversary date (please, no excuses – all of them will sound lame and make the E.D. feel bad before any conversation has even taken place.)

I hope you find this simple Executive Director performance review helpful. I also hope that if you do this in year one, it will incentivize the organization to invest more time in year 2 to a more formal and comprehensive process.

Please take this advice. The key to job satisfaction, professional development, retention – all of these rest on an employee feeling valued and respected and an employee having a clear understanding of how her performance is perceived as well as a clear understanding of what success looks like in the coming year.

––> Download the 10-Step Evaluation Process