I saw a few raised eyebrows a couple of weeks ago when I said that “Psychologist-In-Chief” is one of the most important “hats” that a nonprofit CEO wears when dealing with the governing board. I was conducting a workshop for nonprofit executives at Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Virginia, and we’d come to the place in the agenda titled “The Board-Savvy CEO.” Experience has taught me to expect quizzical looks when I start talking about the emotional and psychological dimension of a CEO’s working relationship with the board, but I’ve learned that it doesn’t take long to reach that Aha! moment when everyone really gets it, and then discussion is sure to be lively.
That’s what happened at the Intermont workshop. Early in the discussion I asked the nonprofit CEOs sitting around the room what they paid their board members: $50,000/year? No? What about $40,000? No? Well, what about a mere $20,000? No? Well what? By then, everyone was laughing. I knew what the answer was, but the point I wanted to make was that people who volunteer their precious and all-too-limited time to governing a nonprofit must be compensated in some way if you don’t want their commitment to wane. And if you’re not going to pay them a salary, then how can you compensate them?
This is the question that a really board-savvy CEO takes seriously. The short answer: EMOTIONAL SATISFACTION. At the Intermont College workshop, it didn’t take us long to come up with a list of concrete things the participating CEOs were either doing or might do to provide their board members with the emotional satisfaction that would fuel their commitment. For example, at the more complex end of the spectrum, there’s ensuring that board members are meaningfully engaged in making the really high-stakes strategic decisions – such as our long-range target for revenue growth and diversification – via a well-designed strategic decision making process. And there are lots of things you can do at the simpler end of the spectrum, such as providing board members with recognition in your organization’s publication and booking board members to speak on behalf of your nonprofit in forums like the Rotary luncheon.
My question for you: Are you devoting enough attention to keeping your board members emotionally satisfied, wearing your Psychologist-In-Chief hat? What specific things are you doing on this front, and what new things might you try? I’d like to hear from you…