AGB President & CEO Update: Transforming CEO Assessments into Growth

By Henry Stoever April 12, 2023 May 3rd, 2023 Blog Post

You are viewing the Institutionally Related Foundation version of this CEO Update. System and Institution versions are also available.

In last month’s communication, I focused on how board assessments can help boards and their members serve as consequential, strategic thought partners centered on student success and long-term institutional vitality. This month, I share similar strategies for assessing chief executive officers.

Constructive annual assessments of the foundation CEO, when done well, identify areas for professional growth, create inspirational leadership development opportunities, and strengthen alignment among the CEO, the foundation board, and the institution president.

Why it matters: Senior professionals with the skills and expertise needed in a foundation CEO are in high demand. There has long been a wide gap between the demand and supply of fundraising talent. Professionals with skills in endowment and nonprofit management are also working in a seller’s market.

  • Foundation CEOs are critical in sustaining relationships with major donors and prospects; an unplanned staff transition can interrupt those relationships.

Desired outcomes: The success and effectiveness of a foundation CEO are contingent upon strong collaborative partnerships with both the institution president and the foundation board, and strategic alignment among all three.

  • Foundation CEOs report to the foundation board, the institution president, or both, depending on structure.

A well-designed assessment process provides a structure to:

  • help ensure that all three parties—the foundation CEO, foundation board, and institution president— are on the same page regarding priorities and annual goals;
  • identify potential friction points or divergences of perspective before they undermine collaboration;
  • provide guidance and support to help ensure the success of the foundation CEO; and
  • enable the institution and foundation to anticipate and prepare for leadership transitions.

Consider the evaluation process carefully. Boards, institution presidents, and foundation CEOs should agree on their approach to annual evaluations in which CEOs assess their own effectiveness against their approved goals.

  • Foundation CEO assessments are an important board responsibility that can inform meaningful professional development programs. To do assessments well, boards need to prioritize them, collaborate closely with the institution president, and devote appropriate time and energy.
  • If the foundation CEO reports to the institution president, the latter should take the lead in the assessment and work closely with the foundation board.

Ensure the president’s annual assessment is constructive and appropriately forward-looking. Traditional assessments have measured performance to date, but foundation CEOs, presidents, and boards should take the appropriate time as well to consider the future. In other words, CEO assessments should focus on future goals and outcomes while also evaluating historical performance to optimize leadership capacity.

Use the results of the assessment to inform a tailored professional development plan. The board chair, generally in collaboration with a designated committee, should use the assessment to identify specific opportunities to strengthen performance. Further, these leaders should support the foundation CEO to develop an ongoing professional development program to achieve the best results.

Ensure sufficient bandwidth to reflect on assessment feedback. Assessments and professional development plans require sufficient time to reflect, plan, and execute. As with all critical foundation operations, the foundation CEO should feel empowered to spend time on these efforts.

Review these resources to deepen your understanding of presidential assessments:

Questions for Board and Committee Chairs

  • How can board and committee chairs support the foundation CEO while staying at a strategic level?
  • What committee is charged with supporting the foundation CEO’s professional development and well-being?

Questions for Board Members

  • How can board members support the foundation CEO’s professional development?
  • What strategic-level changes should be considered to optimize the foundation CEO’s performance?

Questions for Chief Executives and Leadership Teams

  • How much time does the foundation CEO spend on assessing performance and considering their professional development?
  • Is the leadership team structured to increase the foundation CEO’s bandwidth to focus on long-term, strategic opportunities?

I hope to see you at the Institute for Foundation Board Leaders and Chief Executives, coming up June 11–13 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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