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Better Nonprofit Performance Reviews: How To Shake Up the System So It Works for You



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Nonprofit performance reviews are a chance to check in with staff, gauge progress toward goals, and outline a path for moving forward toward your mission.

But performance reviews don't have the best reputation.... Horror stories of irrelevant, ineffective, and morale-killing performance review meetings are easy to find, both on and off the internet. 

At their best, nonprofit performance reviews can:

  • Align employee interests and skill sets with the organization's mission,
  • Increase employee satisfaction and retention, and
  • Create a solid leadership pipeline.

So instead of unquestioningly adopting the standard practices of our for-profit peers, how can we develop and maintain a performance review system that supports a strong organizational culture—tailored to our nonprofits?

How do we take the first steps into turning those ideals into a system of evaluation that moves us further down the road toward fulfilling our mission?

Setting Goals for Effective Nonprofit Performance Reviews

Identifying goals and metrics for success are critical—and they don't have to be complicated! They can be pulled from an employee’s job description, for example. 

Set aside time throughout the year to review those goals and discuss their continued relevance. You might find the position description needs to be reworked to better serve the mission of your organization. 

Keep goals for your department disconnected from any one person by asking questions like, “If the department goal is X, what systems or supports do you think we need to put in place to get there?”

This opens up the possibility of a much more effective problem-solving session and encourages the kind of insight that can get you closer to your organizational goals.

Get the Most From Your Performance Reviews

Your feedback should be regular and consistent, not saved up as a potential "gotcha!" moment during an official performance review—even unintentionally. If nonprofit performance review meetings create an air of trepidation or mistrust, they won’t serve as the motivating tools they have potential to be!

It's likely what you really need from an evaluation process is a qualitative understanding of what's working for each employee and what might be preventing them from successfully meeting the goals you've set. Center questions and topics of discussion that help surface those things.

Ensure you're also using a feedback model that incorporates evaluation of leadership by staff. Training on both giving and receiving feedback for everyone in the organization—but particularly management—can be valuable here.

Focus on Professional Development

Whereas the standard performance review is focused on what's already been done (or not done), it's much more valuable for a nonprofit to look to the future. Orient your employee evaluation process around meeting goals and what needs to happen to make and keep those goals attainable.

Your organization should be setting aside professional development funds to help staff develop skills that will allow them to grow and evolve in their roles—and toward the goals you've set for their position and the organization as a whole. 

Professional development funds are also a great opportunity to develop a leadership pipeline for your nonprofit.

Just Get Started!

Set aside some time to sketch a new or improved system of staff feedback and multi-directional evaluation. You don't have to invest a ton of time and money—hammer out the details, type up a basic form to work from, and get started. 

Remember to always keep the door open to feedback on the process from your staff; together, you can build and refine a process that works for your organization and brings out the best in everyone!

For more information and resources for nonprofit professionals, join NPO Centric’s membership program. >>