How to appreciate your agency's executive director

appreciationI can’t prove it, but I suspect that executive directors for non-profit organizations are the most under-appreciated bunch of people on the planet. Working for a group of people (e.g. board of directors) compared to one person is difficult, and I think this contributes to my observations pertaining to appreciation. Simply stated I think group dynamics are such that every person thinks someone else is doing the appreciating and recognizing.
Turnover is an expensive proposition for non-profit organizations. Here are some of the obvious and not-so-obvious costs associated with losing your executive director:

  • costs associated with executive search process
  • lost institutional knowledge
  • orientation and training expenses
  • lost organizational momentum associated with implementation of strategic plan, fundraising plan, etc
  • impact on donor confidence in your agency

Usually when having this conversation with board members, I get asked what are a few ways to better appreciate your executive director. The following sections represent just a few thoughts and ideas.
Annual performance evaluation
I cannot tell you how many times an executive director has confided in me that their board does not evaluate them.
Not only is a year-end performance evaluation a best practice that will keep you out of legal trouble down the road, but it is the logical place for a board to express appreciation.
Annual performance plan
No one likes to “make it up as you are going along“.
So, development of a written and measurable annual performance plan is a recognition tool of sorts. It provides the executive director with a clear road map on what they need to do in order to receive kudos.
Mid-year check-up
For all of the same reasons why a year-end performance appraisal makes sense, so does a mid-year check-up visit.
This meeting allows the board an opportunity to recognize successes. It also provides for course correction on other performance objectives, which sends a clear message that you care about the executive director’s success.
Year-end token of appreciation
During the holiday season, many executive directors are organizing holiday office parties and finding ways to show their staff they are appreciated. A good board makes sure that someone is looking out for the executive director.
It doesn’t need to be an actual gift (e.g. gift card to the exec’s favorite restaurant), even though that is always a nice gesture.
It could be as simple as every board member adding the executive director to their holiday card mailing list and writing something poignant about what they appreciate about their number one employee.
When I facilitate board engagement trainings, one of the nine volunteer engagement principles I talk about is “recognition/appreciation“. In reality, the same holds true for employees. If you want to get the most out of your executive director and keep them around for a while, then you need to find ways to appreciate them.
What are some ways your agency’s board of directors demonstrates its appreciation for its executive director? Please use the comment box below to share your favorite examples.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
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