An Executive Director’s Self-Evaluation


Hi everyone. For the first time in my eight years with the organization, my board has decided to conduct a performance review. These are two words that send chills up and down every Executive Director’s spine, on par with “budget deficit” and “annual event.” The board had a clandestine meeting three weeks ago to talk about my performance as an ED. Soon they will meet with me to deliver feedback.

I’m nervous. I just know they’re going to say something like, “Vu, you’ve developed a reputation as a drunkard and a loudmouth. That’s affecting VFA’s image. We need you to stop mixing drinks at work. Also, funders are saying you’ve been dressing up as Oliver Twist during site visits and literally begging for money.”

As part of the ED review, the board asked me to fill out a self-evaluation. This is a very important part of this process. Never do a performance evaluation without asking the evaluee to self-evaluate. Mainly because it’s very hard to remember all the stuff they did. More importantly, though, the distance between one’s perception of oneself and others’ perception of one may be significant, and highlighting and discussing any significant differences in perception is helpful to fostering personal and professional growth and/or bitterness.

The evaluation form is three pages long, and at the end, it asks for a summary of three key strengths and three key areas of improvement. I am listing them here, with the hope that it will inspire EDs and staff of other organizations to self-reflect. Only when we stop to take a break and reflect on our strengths and weaknesses will we improve and/or grow resentful:

My strengths this past year:

Strength 1: Empowering staff to make decisions and take ownership. This involves coaching skills, such as asking strategic questions to encourage staff to self-problem-solve instead of solving problems for them. For example:

Staff: One of the tutors in our program is constantly late and has a bad attitude. What should I do?

Me: Well, what do you think you should do?

Staff: I was thinking of having a one-on-one with her to get her perspective. What do you think?

Me: I could tell you, but first, what do you think I should think?

Strength 2: Fostering a culture of strong teamwork. This involves encouraging staff to collaborate on projects, support one another, and mutually resolve problem:

Staff 1: Vu, tell Staff 2 she needs to be in VFA’s monthly video update

Me: Please be in the video update, Staff 2.

Staff 2: I don’t want to be videotaped!

Me: She doesn’t want to be videotaped.

Staff 1: Vuuuuuuu!!

Me: You two figure it out! This custom-framed unicorn poster is not going to Velcro-tape itself up on the office wall!

Strength 3: Conserving VFA resources in order to focus the team on our mission and not get distracted.

Potential partner: Hello Mr. Le, we are conducting a community-wide research effort to improve community safety, and we need to start by gathering input from communities of color. Can VFA help us by organizing—

Me: A focus group of some of our clients?

Potential partner: Yes, exactly!

Me: How much are you providing in funding?

Potential partner: Fun…ding…?

Me: (Click)

My areas for improvement:

Area 1: Not letting personal pet peeves, such as when people use “literally” wrong, negatively affect the organization:

Potential donor: Hi, I visited your amazing after-school program, and I want to make a donation to VFA.

Me: Aw, thank you! That’s so thoughtful.

Potential donor: My pleasure. You guys are literally building bridges between different cultures

Me: We don’t want your money.

Area 2: Being more open and receptive to constructive feedback:

Colleague: My table overall had a good time at your dinner, but there were just way too many speeches. They dragged the evening down and sapped the energy out of the room:

Me: Your FACE sapped the energy out of the room.

Colleague: Also, you may want to spend more funds on the audio-visual stuff, since the sound was rough and muffled.

Me: Your FACE is rough and muffled.

Colleague: And you should put up more signs so guests know where to go. There weren’t enough signs.

Me: Your FACE is not enough signs.

Area 3: Improving on time management, keeping better track of outcomes, setting and meeting goals more often, being more effective at fundraising, spending more time cultivating donors, providing more professional development for staff, better engagement of the board, less watching of Portlandia during work hours, improving the financial management system and delivering reports on time for board meetings, increasing frequency of communication with the community, and coming to work with hangovers less often.

Well, there you go, that’s the most honest self-assessment I’ve done in a long time. I hope the board is satisfied. I’ll work on those and whatever other reasonable things they bring up, but I have my principles and there are certain things I am not going to compromise on. For instance, I am not going stop our “casual weekdays” dress code, and I’m not going to disband the Nonprofit Fight Club that I started with some other EDs.

  • Roxanne shepherd

    You forgot your most-needed self-improvement: get a sense of humor!

    • Vu

      Aw, thanks Roxanne. Thanks for coming to EDHH last time, too. You are swell, and I don’t use “swell” lightly.

  • Started my day off with a hearty laugh!! Thank you!

    • Vu

      Thank you, Nancy. There’s a reason I try to publish on Monday. We should all start our weeks off with a laugh. Or a shot of vodka. I do both.

      • Good for you. Will add both to my Monday to-do list. Since I try to keep it to just 3 things per day, that should make my Mondays pretty good!

  • Cliff

    OK, we’re all crossing (y)our fingers that the evaluation suggests you increase time for the blog! Seriously: this great post brings up a big question: Is it ever OK for a nonprofit Board to forgo an annual evaluation of a paid ED? (The evaluation ideally would be a straightforward but formal process that starts a year or so earlier with the ED and Board setting clear goals and other measurable criteria for success.) I am guessing that Vu and his Board members have had effective communication and successes that made an evaluation process seem avoidable … but there is LITERALLY no substitute for a real evaluation. 😉

    • Vu

      Cliff, thanks for pointing that out. For some reason though, not many of my ED friends have had consistent evaluations. If we’re lucky, one every few years.

  • My favorite approach to the strengths and weaknesses question is to list some way cool strengths . . . and then have my weaknesses all be that I just do those strengths way too hard or way too much or way too awesome. Then I apologize for being so intense in my pursuit of excellence, and promise I will do better in future at not causing problems by being too strong in my strengths, e.g. . . .

    Strength: Very good communication skills.

    Weakness: Communication skills are so very good that others’ communication skills may look lame in comparison, possibly leading to feelings of inadequacy on their part, if they’re weak and sensitive about such things.

    Solution: Be a team player and make sure that other people’s lame communications get heard sometimes in between my awesome ones.

    • Vu

      Great advice, JES. You do have great communication skills, not to mention awesome mixology skills.

  • From a four-time executive director: Snort! (That’s the way I laugh.)

    • Vu

      Julia, thank you for gracing us with your charming laughter. We can all use more laughing.

  • Uh, I seem to recognize myself as “Colleague” in Area 2….

    • Vu

      Claire, your FACE is Colleague in Area 2.

  • Another perfect one, Vu. My ED is going to howl.