The executive director's first 90 days

bright eyed bushy tailedBright eyed and bushy-tailed. I love those two descriptions because they perfect describe most newly minted non-profit executive directors. They are eager, optimistic, and ready to change the world when they walk through your agency’s door on their first day of work.
It is at this point that I’ve witnessed many exhausted board volunteers collapse because the first day for the new executive director typically represents the end of a long executive search process. Of course, the reality is that the first 90 days are perhaps some of the most crucial days for the new executive director and the organization.
As I reflect back upon my experience 14-years ago, I now recognize how lucky I was to have been hired by an agency that belonged to a larger national organization (e.g. Boys & Girls Clubs of America). The board simply pointed me in the direction of the regional office, and they signed me up for “New Executive Orientation”. There were pre-training worksheets that walked me through an assortment of activities geared toward hitting the ground running.
But what if your agency doesn’t belong to a national organization? What should your new executive director’s first 90 days look like?
Without getting into a very tactical answer to this question, here are a few big picture activities both the board and the new executive director should look at engaging in:

  • The board needs to develop a written (and measurable) 90 day performance management plan for the new CEO
  • At the end of the first 90 days, the board needs to evaluate their new employee against the written performance management plan and issue another written management plan focused on the remainder of the year
  • The new exec should schedule one-on-one meetings with every board member to talk about the following: 1) where do they currently see the agency and 2) in what direction do they think the agency should be moving
  • The new CEO should be meeting in-person with the agency’s top 25 or top 50 donors to get their perspective on where the agency is and where it should be going
  • The new executive director should meet in-person with each of the agency’s key stakeholders and collaborative partners
  • Back home at the office there is much to do including: 1) reviewing all grants (esp grant deliverables), contracts, audits, recent financial statements, and written organization plan and policy documents including bylaws and 2) getting to know operational staff and learning programs
  • The board needs to plan a party and introduce their new executive director to the community

exhaustedExhausted yet?
Well, these six bullet points are only meant to be a big picture view.
If you are looking for something more tactical and detailed, I ran across a great document online from NAMI titled “The First 90 Days: The New NAMI Executive Director’s Guide“. I think this is a great resource to help new executive directors hit the ground running. It is definitely worth the click.  😉
What has your agency done to help its new executive director hit the ground running? Please use the comment box below and share your thoughts and opinions. Why? Because we can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

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