Executive Director Evaluation Survey Form

In the last issue of Blue Avocado, we discussed how board evaluations of executive directors (CEOs) are different from all other performance evaluations in the organization. These differences -- including the limited ability of board members to observe the executive -- are also among the reasons why 45% of executives have not had a review in the last year (CompassPoint's Daring to Lead 2011 study). In this article we draw on that discussion and on the submissions of dozens of Blue Avocado readers to propose a process and an evaluation instrument.

(At the end of this article is a link to download the survey form in Word to make it easy for you to modify.)

When we reviewed various the dozens of evaluation instruments sent in by Blue Avocado readers, we found that nearly all of them had these attributes in common:

  • Most reviews used a checklist form (rather than narrative)
  • Most focused on ED's actions and behaviors (rather than on organizational performance)
  • Most relied on input from board members only (rather than include input from others such as staff, funders, clients, art critics, etc.)

Although we feel that evaluations that are narrative, focus on organizational performance and contain elements of a 360 degree evaluation are better ways to evaluate executives, we also realize:

  • Without a checklist of some kind, the ED evaluation most likely won't take place
  • Evaluation of organizational performance is complex and is more likely to arise from executive evaluation than to occur before it, and
  • Input from others in and outside the organization is more appropriately focused on organizational assessment, not as narrowly as on ED evaluation.

Most importantly: despite the fact that board members may have little to go on and not much experience with ED evaluation, it's still important to have the evaluation.

Perhaps the most important thing we learned from executive directors about the value that did emerge from evaluations is that the discussions -- if held in good faith -- result in better-aligned expectations and goals for the organization and for the executive.

As a result, we adapted instruments to:

  • Give board members the chance to reflect (and discuss) not only on the executive's performance but on the performance of the board and of the organization
  • Spark discussions between the executive and the board (rather than to sum them up)
  • Give the executive the opportunity reflect and learn (if so inclined)
  • Provide a basis for salary and fire/keep decisions,
  • Lead to alignment and clarification of goals and expectations.


A. The board should assign a small group or one person to managing the ED's evaluation. This can be the officers, or a task force created for the job.

B. The ED should go over the process and instrument(s) with that committee prior to the start. This can be as simple as an email or as deep as a group discussion about goals of the evaluation.

C. The board can collect the information from respondents. Rather than compile an "average," it's imporant to report how many board members marked "outstanding," how many marked "needs improvement," and so forth. Having all board members mark "fine" is quite different from half of them marking "outstanding" while another half mark "improvement needed."

D. An executive session of the board (perhaps 1 hour without any staff present) to discuss the survey results and comments in general.

E. Relaying the information to the executive: by the board chair or another assigned member or two.

F. The executive's chance to respond (in person or in writing) to the full board.

G. The review and the response (if there is one) are placed in the executive's personnel file.

Tip: Involve HR to make sure the review takes place. Most supervisors would not complete reviews of their staff if there were not someone from HR reminding and nagging them. An HR or finance staffperson can keep reminding the board officers that a review must be completed for the executive's personnel file and that salary documentation must be provided.

At the end of this article is a link to download the survey form in Word. Please do not use any of these templates "as is." Instead, use them as a basis for forms that are relevant to your organization's circumstances:

What about 360 degree evaluations?

Every few years it's very helpful for a board to get a sense of how its executive -- and the organization as a whole -- is experienced by volunteers, visitors, patrons, clients, members, funders, collaborative partners, and others. A 360 degree evaluation takes a good deal of time (not only from the board but from everyone who is asked to give input), and it makes the most sense to use the opportunity not only to learn about the CEO, but about the organization.

Please click here to see a Blue Avocado article on 360 degree organizational assessments.

Other data

Many organizations also have established goals and objectives for the year, such as number of enrollments, visitors to the art gallery, decrease in euthanized animals, and so forth. There may also be data available such as average rating score for workshops conducted by the organization, ticket sales, attendees at annual fundraising lunch, etc.

Measuring organizational performance against such benchmarks is tremendously helpful, as is measuring performance against an updated job description. However, there are limitations to over-relying on such benchmarks:

  • There may be external reasons why performance did not meet benchmarks, and those gaps may be more productively addressed in a broader context than the annual review of the CEO.
  • A great many organizations do not have such organizational performance benchmarks, nor does the executive have a recently-updated job description. It's necessary to have an evaluation tool that does not require these to be in place.

The role of judgment

No one every has enough information to do a perfectly informed, "objective" evaluation of anyone. If an executive evaluation results in substantive discussion about organizational goals, organizational values about how work is done, and how the board and executive can both do better, then the evaluation "worked."

Our thanks to the many anonymous Blue Avocado readers who contributed to this article, as well as to Nancy Aleck, Kathy Booth, Steven Bowman, Marsha Caplan, Douglas Ford. Krista Glaser, Amy Heydlauff, Lyn Hopper, Trudy Hughes, Jeanette Issa, Shalom Black Lane, Kristen Larsen, Peggy Liuzzi, Dan Lozer, Diane May, Pat Moore. Paul Rosenberger, Erin Ryan, Penelope Sachs, Kate Stephenson, Lynda J. Timbers, Connie Zienkewicz. I hope we didn't miss anyone! Special thanks, too, to reviewers of this article: Trish Tchume (Young Nonprofit Professionals Network), Liz Heath (Sound Nonprofits), Rick Moyers (Meyer Foundation) and Tim Wolfred (CompassPoint Nonprofit Services).

Jan Masaoka is editor of Blue Avocado, and author of the Best of the Board Cafe, available here from Amazon. She has been an executive director and board member and experienced both bad and good evaluations from both ends. And lived to tell the tale.

See also in Blue Avocado:

Comments (39)

  • Anonymous

    Not a bad form, but one of the overall limitations of any nonprofit ED review is that the board generally only sees the ED in action during an hour-long board or committee meeting, following a well-crafted agenda. The day-to-day activity, the rapidly changing landscape of organizational management, and the one-on-one and group dynamics not involving the board (client meetings, staff meetings, training workshops, etc.) is often unknown to the board. And unlike for-profit boards which may include a number of peers, many nonprofit board members don't actually manage organizations themselves (although they may be part of an organization) and so don't bring that knowledge with them as they review the nonprofit ED. I am not enamored with involving the people the ED manages in the review priocess unless there is significant hierarchy to involve staff who play a critical role in organizational success -- CFO, COO, PR director, etc. -- and who work directly with the ED. Asking the bookkeeper of a large and complex nonprofit about the performance of the ED is less useful. "The ED is always on the phone or in meetings," says the bookkeeper, not realizing that the ED's job includes communications, relationship building, and planning -- hence the phone calls and meetings. Oh, yes, I got dinged in a 360-review for this very thing.

    Nov 15, 2011
  • You're right that the limitations of the process can't be overcome by a form, no matter what it's like. If there are people on the board would would give serious attention to a bookkeeper's criticism that the ED is "always on the phone," that's a board without sound judgment. Good board leaders would dismiss such a comment, but would also value a comment from the bookkeeper that perhaps the ED was frequently insisting that his or her reimbursements be paid without backup documentation. The form and the process -- no matter how good or bad -- is useful because it gives a platform for matters to be raised. Whether the individuals involved are wise enough to make the right judgments is, unfortunately, something that forms aren't very good at. Thanks for writing. Jan

    Nov 15, 2011
  • Anonymous

    But that is a key weakness in the review process -- the board's (indivual and collective) ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, to understand fully the ED's role. Some board members are hyper-sensitive to any criticism so see any "negative" comment as a potential issue. Your response posists a different issue than the one I raised about the value of more rank and file employees in a LARGE and COMPLEX hierarchial structure to see the ED's work in context of "leadership." In the "issue" you raise, the bookkeeper should raise the issue of lack of documentation with his/her superior or CFO who then can address the issue either with the ED or, if there are significant concerns of malfeasance, with the Board chair. This is NOT an annual performance appraisal issue and should be addressed as the situation arises!

    Nov 15, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I'm quite surprised that your check box ratings are so unbalanced--the ratio of positive to negative is 3:1 which skews the results.

    Nov 15, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Very timely.... our staff completes all of our evaluations (all staff and CEO), as well as an evaluation by the Board of themselves during November/December, which makes raises, increases, etc., much easier to budget. Then the few new staff that join mid-year (might be difficult if staff is very large), just receives a pro-rated increase--based on their evaluation and then they are caught up with everyone elses "evaluation year." Since I stumbled on this great idea a number of years ago, I find that it saves the entire agency lots of time, eliminates late or lasped evaluations dates and retroactive salary increases, etc., and everyone can focus on their evaluations and be done in quick order. Just thought I would share with others.

    Nov 15, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I am an ED and in favor of the small group or task force doing the evaluation vs. one person. So far, mine have been done by the president of my organization only. Unfortunately, my board has been very disfunctional and my last review was conducted by (who was then) my third president in six months. Because my last review was done by someone who hadn't worked with me very long, she chose to do what she called 360 review, but she picked and chose who to speak to based on what she thought they would say about me. I asked her to include others and she refused. I think if it had been a task force effort vs. one person, it would have been done more fairly. As long as the 360 includes a variety of people the ED works with, I see no problem with that tactic.

    Nov 17, 2011
  • Anonymous

    There should be written policy about the ED review -- who conducts, when is it conducted, what kind of review (group, 360, etc.), who is included if more than one person, etc., to avoid these arbitrary "review" processes. Few board members have the requisite skill to conduct any personnel review, let alone the CEO, who they see maybe once a month in a fairly well controlled environment -- the board or committee meeting. Few board members -- despited an ED's best attempts to make it otherwise -- ever see the ED "in the field," interacting on a daily basis with staff and clients, working until 10 at night putting the final touches on the budget, etc. So the review process is of limited value in many instances. Still an annual review can help the board to interact with the ED to develop organizational goals -- just like the ED does with his/her own direct reports and other key staff. (I guess that's what really irritates me; I developed an effective, engaging staff evaluation processes that has led to significant staff development, organizational growth, and successful stragetic plan outcomes. Yet the process I have gotten in the past was often less than effective.) I hope Blue Avocado continues to research ED evaluation models.

    Dec 01, 2011
  • Anonymous

    As part of my regular review a small group of Board members meet with my direct management reports. This has been a good process as they are the ones I work with most directly on day to day activities that Boards aren't always aware of. Both the Board members and the staff enjoy the process as it gives the Board members some opportunity to engage with staff at a deeper level. It usually is more senior Board members that are part of the group and have worked with me for awhile. We may include a new member as part of the process but always in conjunction with a more senior member.

    Nov 17, 2011
  • Anonymous

    It seems to me that any evaluation of the ED should include some board self evaluation. Linking to your article(s) on that topic would have been appropriate.

    Nov 18, 2011
  • Anonymous

    This survey is missing a key element - self assessment by the E.D./CEO. Our process requires that come first and send to the board. The self assessment form (all narrative) also has a question "how can the board help you do your job better". I didn't see last month's article, unfortunately, or would have sent our sample in. In smaller organizations that do not have an HR department, most EDs are reminding their board, which gets a little awkward but is doable.

    Nov 18, 2011
  • I think that EDs should be evaluated based on the turnover in the development role or roles in their organization. Think about it. Your ED works most closely with this person or these people. Since the average tenure of a development professional is 18-24 months with an organization, as we all know, often the friction from the ED can be the cause of that. And instead of looking at the root of the dynamic between the two positions, people just assume that it was the DD's fault. Since it takes a DD 12-18 months to start making real money for a nonprofit and building up the relationships to get big grants, major gifts, sponsorships, etc, every time the nonprofit has to hire and train a new DD, that's 12 months of potential revenue they are losing. This makes the nonprofit less effective. Any evaluation of effectiveness of the ED should include turnover in the Development role. Your thoughts? Mazarine http://charityhowto.com/upcoming.php

    Nov 21, 2011
  • Anonymous

    How would this work with a staff of 300 and a development staff of 25 ?

    Feb 03, 2012
  • Anonymous

    360-reviews can be helfpul if the organization is sophisticated enough and knowledgeable enough to know how best to execute and use this kind of review. Without clear guidelines, a 360-review can easily get skewed. One I had (in a 9-person organization, including myself) had only 3 out of 8 people included in the 360, and the review didn't include any direct reports! The board either should have selected the 3 direct reports or have included the entire staff. The folks who weren't included were miffed at being excluded. Two of the three included been with the organization less than 8 months. As a result,their evaluation didn't cover the full year. The board was flummoxed that they didn't get meaningful results -- but decided to use them because that was the process they had implemented. I think the board was trying to get a fresh perspective and to be inclusive -- except they weren't. My current board conducts an annual evaluation and I do a self-evaluation. Interesting to see where these 2 assessments match up -- and where the results are different! I also develop a report on my accomplishments over the year because I notice that board's tend to forget the stellar work (big donation, new program launch, community recognition) of six months ago and focus on the recent call from irked client. A gentle reminder of all the work of the past 12 months (successes and duds) helps the board to put the evaluation in context. This board also does a self-evaluation but really doesn't do very much with it except identify potential leaders, etc. Some ideas on how to USE to board self-evaluation would be handy.

    Nov 22, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I need to save this for future evaluations

    Nov 26, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Dear Jan, Very good article. As usual, provocative and timely. The above comments indicate the range of possibilities based on size of organization, board composition, type of organization, and many other organizational factors. It appears that ED evaluation is best conducted as part of a broader process, probably periodic evaluation of the board itself. Regards.

    Nov 28, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I am sharing this information with our new board president.

    Dec 01, 2011
  • Anonymous

    How about a Board Evaluation Committee, who works directly with the ED, and together, Bd & Ed, develop standards by which an evaluation can be completed.

    Feb 03, 2012
  • Anonymous

    Very helpful! However, the abbreviation for outstanding looks at first glance like oust--or FIRE!

    Feb 08, 2012
  • Anonymous

    What do you do if the staff is so small that a 360 review of the ED would not be anonymous? It would be great if we could do that in our organization but it's intimidating to think about retribution if staff were to be honest about issues with the ED that the board should know about. There is no HR here.

    Jun 04, 2012
  • Anonymous


    Nov 14, 2013
  • Anonymous

    very helpful thanks!

    Jan 11, 2014
  • Anonymous

    i've been the ED of a nonprofit for over 20 years and i feel strongly that the worst possible thing you can do is have the board involve any staff members in the evaluation of the ED. In many instances you will find that the staff is hesitant to say anything at firs. The board then eggs them on by promising it will be kept in confidence, so they often feel pressured to come up with something whether or not it is a major issue. There should be a grievance procedure in place for staff to follow if in fact they find their ED is doing something truly egregious and it should be left at that. No one is perfect and you can find fault with everyone, however, by allowing staff to voice these issues you immediately validate their feelings, right or wrong and this greatly weakens the ED's ability to supervise their staff.

    May 02, 2015
  • I agree wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, seeking feedback from staff will invite disgruntled employees to use this an an opportunity to complain about salary, disciplinary issues, productivity requirements etc. that are policy related. Executive decisions are not always popular, especially in these days of non-profits having to "do more with less" and evaluating an ED based on popularity is a very poor way to manage public funds. Every employer has a grievance procedure in place for complaints of misconduct, but too often board members in the guise of soliciting "input" can wreak havoc with the authority of the leadership and his/her ability to act in the best interests of the company.

    Sep 22, 2016
  • Interesting article. Good input on the good and bad of 360 evaluations.

    Jul 23, 2015
  • Where is the link to download the survey form in Word to make it easy for me to modify?

    Aug 06, 2015
  • Did you ever find the survey form in Word?

    Sep 15, 2015
  • Very interesting; a bit too long for our board but a good place to start. Thank you.

    Aug 25, 2015
  • Very helpful. A good place to start for our evaluation.

    Aug 28, 2015
  • Where is the link to the forms? Are they still available?

    Great article.

    Oct 06, 2015
  • Please provide a link to download the executive director evaluation forms.

    Dec 13, 2015
  • Anonymous


    Dec 01, 2015
  • Anonymous

    Extremely helpful for starting a new non-profit. Thanks.

    Dec 14, 2015
  • I am starting a Non Profit focused on Education & Entrepreneurship in Nigeria and this is going to go a long way. Thank you Jan.

    Jul 21, 2016
  • Anonymous

    Great! This is super.;

    Sep 16, 2016
  • Anonymous

    This is very helpful. Thank you.

    Oct 02, 2016
  • Great article.

    Mar 07, 2017
  • Really enjoyed the information. Thanks.

    Mar 07, 2017
  • Is it possible to get this form in a Google Doc or pdf?

    Jun 14, 2017

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