The Keys to a Great Nonprofit CEO/Board Relationship | npENGAGE

The Keys to a Great Nonprofit CEO/Board Relationship

By on Oct 30, 2013


Board of Directors

It’s almost Halloween, so I guess it’s understandable that I have thoughts of costumes, fun and the land of make believe on my mind.  So why not take that a next step, beyond the costumes and candy and straight to the superpowers I would have if, well, if this WERE make believe?

If I had a superpower of sorts, it would be the ability to wave a magic wand and, as Patrick Stewart would say on Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Make it so.”

Imagine how cool that would be — whether you’re a nonprofit CEO or a board member, and you were in the middle of a less-than-productive meeting where people weren’t seeing eye to eye.  In addition to being cool, it would save a whole lot of time and angst.  You know what I mean.  You’ve been there…in that meeting where the board and the CEO aren’t on the same wavelength, and nothing ends up getting done.

So, given that I don’t have superpowers (please don’t tell my kids), that leaves us to take a much more practical approach — one that takes time and effort but is well worth it in the end.  That approach is all about cultivating a good relationship between the CEO and the board, and there ARE some keys to success.

  • Trust – At the core of any good relationship is the ability for the parties involved to trust each other.  Trust is built from mutual respect, commitment and an understanding of each others’ roles.
  • Time – Relationships take time, and you can’t expect the CEO and the board to get along and know each other well if they don’t spend time together, working and also simply kicking back and getting a sense of each other as people.
  • Transparency – Nonprofits talk about this all the time when it comes to impact and results, but transparency is just as important between the CEO and the board, and vice versus, which leads us to…
  • Communication – Although the other items on this list are important, without communication, nothing really matters.  In the end, it’s what we share with each other, how we share it, how often — in stressful times and during celebrations alike — that help us build trust, grow understanding, and value each other.

So if you’re on a board or you work with a board, and you don’t have a magic wand, ask yourself some very basic questions.  Do you trust your counterparts?  Do you invest the time needed to have a good relationship?  Are you transparent, or are you always expecting the other side to be that way?  And, finally, do you invest in making sure you talk with, share with and generally engage in the conversation that builds the trust needed for a good working relationship?

If not, then make an early New Year’s resolution to open your ears more, spend a bit more time, and invest in a relationship that will pay dividends for you, for your colleagues and for all the people depending on the nonprofit’s service.


Rachel Hutchisson is the vice president of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud, headquartered in Charleston, SC.  She is responsible for the company’s global corporate citizenship efforts, a role that allows her to leverage her 20+ years of experience of working with nonprofit partners.  She is a member of the board of directors for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International, the Giving Institute (producers of Giving USA), and the Coastal Community Foundation.  She is also a Past President of the AFP SC Lowcountry chapter. Rachel is a graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, and received a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.  A member of Phi Beta Kappa, she is a Renaissance Weekend participant and was the recipient of the Charleston Regional Business Journal’s Influential Women in Business Rising Star Award.  Rachel is an avid soccer fan and spends far too much time driving to remote parts of the state to watch her children play.  Connect with Rachel on Twitter at @RachelHutchssn or on LinkedIn.

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