Evaluating Your Executive Director

Fact – most camp boards do not do an annual evaluation of their executive director. 

Myth: Evaluating an Executive Director is a hard thing to do.

Every fall, after the summer season has been tucked in and put to bed, there is a natural transition to a new season. On the one hand, the work rolls directing into retreat season. On the other hand, things slow down a bit to allow for the critical work of planning and dreaming. It’s also the perfect time of year for evaluations and reviews for the camp staff members.

So, why is it that most executive directors don’t get the benefit of a review? More than other team members, the person in this position is left without review or feedback most of the year.

As a board, there is the question of who evaluates the Executive Director? Then, how does that happen? Finally, what needs to be captured to make it official?

Let’s roll through those questions one at a time.

Who evaluates the Executive Director?

Typically, it is the job of the executive committee or a single-purpose task force to do an annual evaluation of the executive director. Ultimately, we advise that this group always include the board chair and two other board members. 

Of course, the board chair must choose people who can provide leadership in this context. The ability to ask questions, listen with intent, and respond appropriately is critical to a meaningful evaluation. 

If you aren’t sure who this should include, start with the executive committee. These are likely the strongest leaders on your board.

What does the evaluation include?

When boards aren’t evaluating an executive, they often cite this crazy notion that doing an evaluation feels too formal, and they worry they will do it wrong. 

Let’s clear that up right now. An evaluation can be as simple as a guided conversation. It is just intentional time to talk about how the board and executive are feeling about the work. 

Here’s an essential list of things you might review in an evaluation:

  1. The past year – how did it go?
  2. The job description – is the executive accomplishing all that they are called to do? Is the board supporting them in doing so? Are there changes that need to be made? Are they not meeting/meeting/exceeding expectations?
  3. The future – what does the vision (1 yr, 3 yr, 5 yr) look like, and what is the executive’s role in making it happen? What does successful leadership look like in the next year?

Here’s an important thing to note — evaluations are just as much about creating strong relationships and trust as they are about specific information shared. This crucial relational piece can make all the difference in an executive questioning their future or being excited about it. Remember, in the absence of honest board feedback, the executive (like most people) will create assumptions about how they are doing and your opinion. 

If the executive isn’t performing well, the annual evaluation is essential to noting deficiencies in their performance review and file. Camps are notorious for not removing ineffective leaders. For your camp to do this well, the annual evaluation can be a good tool for documenting and tracking performance.

Plus, as your board changes over the years, the evaluation documentation becomes a piece that stays with the executive and gives the new board members (who are evaluating them) insight into their history at the organization. 

What needs to be captured to make it official?

There are specific markers that a board needs to track over time. These markers can include camper participation numbers, retreat income, donor income, etc. The executive evaluation may be a helpful place to keep track of these things. Perhaps you want to create and maintain an official excel document that tracks these core measures of success. Be sure to include a column for notes. This space becomes important in a year like 2020 when the numbers nose dive, and you need to remember that this was because of the pandemic. 

During the meeting with the executive director, ask one of the committee members to keep notes. After the meeting, ask those present and the executive to sign off on the notes. Then, put them in the file. It can be that simple. 

If more significant changes need to be made as a result of the evaluation (good or bad), be sure to document them thoroughly and get all parties to sign off. 

Why is this important?

Unless there is a formal evaluation of the executive director, they are often left unsure of how they are doing and, more importantly, how the board thinks they are doing? If you’ve ever been in this position, you know that the way you fill in the gaps is often not accurate.

To have and nurture the most effective leader for your organization, you need to support them. An annual evaluation is an essential piece of that support!

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