Running a Nonprofit: How to Evaluate the Progress of New Hires

By Stan Hutton, Frances Phillips

Most nonprofit organizations establish a period, usually three to six months, when new employees are “on probation.” During this time, new employees learn their jobs, and managers can observe them at their work.

Although the term probationary conjures an image of misbehavior, this period is important for both the new staff person and her manager. Be honest with yourself and the employee. If it becomes apparent that the person can’t do the job, making a personnel change during this period is easier than after she becomes a permanent employee.

Be sure you’ve included an explanation of your probationary period in your personnel policies and that the new employee is aware of the policy. Consider adding an option in your personnel policies to extend the probationary period in case job performance is below expectations.

Conduct a performance evaluation at the end of the probationary period. The evaluation should be written (and added to the employee’s personnel file) and discussed in a meeting with the employee. Rating employees on a number scale on various aspects of the job was once the common format. Today, a narrative evaluation that addresses performance in achieving previously agreed-upon goals and objectives is much more helpful.

Many employees are happier in their jobs if they have ongoing opportunities to learn new things and develop new skills. An annual employee review is an excellent opportunity to review professional development goals with the employee. It’s also a good time to review ways — through workshops, training, or trying on new roles — that she may continue to grow in the job.