Are Nonprofits Avoiding or Embracing Performance Evaluation?

I just finished a phone interview with a reporter from the Lexington Herald Leader doing an article on the responsibilities of serving on a board – the laws, the pitfalls, the rewards, the risks.  For anyone outside of Central Kentucky or those who aren’t readers of the Lexington Herald Leader, it would only be fair to tell you there have been plenty of stories in the news about boards and oversight in this region.  While most of the news has involved quasi-governmental organizations and not 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt nonprofits, these differences have been largely overlooked and this has perpetuated the belief among many that there are few differences.

We had a great discussion for about thirty minutes and in that time, I did my best to remind the reporter that boards are made up of individuals – human beings who make mistakes, sometimes don’t ask the best (or any) questions and at times, can forget the need to avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest. 

In this week’s eNews, we talk about evaluation in general and in the coming months, we have two webinars specifically on performance evaluation.  On April 20, we will talk about performance evaluation strategies to make this a meaningful process for everyone involved and on May 24, we will talk specifically about the board’s evaluation of the CEO/executive director.  This is timely because the reporter was specifically interested in why many boards don’t evaluate the CEO, why some CEO’s often don’t want or demand that the board discuss performance until it’s too late and in general,the reporter felt there is a very real “resistance” to performance evaluation in the nonprofit sector.

Let me be clear, human resources and performance management are not my areas of expertise.  But from my experience as a staff person evaluated by a board, a board member evaluating a CEO and a consultant trying to help both sides get it right, I made my best attempt to provide the reporter with my take on some of the key issues.  Of these, one of the most important issues I see with organizations we work with is the board’s focus on finding the right “form.”  I’ve said it a million times – meaningful performance evaluation is not about the “form.”  Another issue I see is that sometimes the board chair has no experience at all in performance evaluation.  Whether an attorney, CPA, etc., sometimes the board chair in the position of leading the evaluation process has never supervised a staff person before and may have never even participated in a performance evaluation process – some are flying by the seat of their pants and honestly, who can blame a nonprofit CEO for not getting too excited about engaging in this process with someone at the helm who may or may not have a good idea of what they are doing. 

Certainly, there are lots of reasons that all organizations, not just nonprofits struggle with performance evaluation.  Let us hear from you – what are the issues?  Is there a reluctance among nonprofits to engage in performance evaluation?  What are your experiences, tips, suggestions for improving this important process, horror stories?  Let’s learn from each other!

Danielle Clore

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