Having a front-row seat to see nonprofits heroically change lives, bring diverse groups of people together around common missions, and strengthen communities in fundamental ways, has been a wonderful gift – a great way to spend the past 30 years!  But I’ve also seen the darker side of the nonprofit sector:  The never-ending “treadmill” of fundraising, high levels of staff turnover, and boards that have good intentions but are underutilized, unsure of how to best contribute, and sometimes even counterproductive. We’ve all seen the statistics. The for-profit sector – to a fault – is all about mergers and increasing efficiency through larger and larger platforms while the nonprofit sector remains one of mostly “mom and pop” organizations struggling to get sufficient traction to “move to the next level.”  Why is that, and what can be done to create change? What’s the secret sauce for success in the world of nonprofits?     

Every truly exceptional nonprofit I have seen has one quality that sets it apart from the crowd – a great CEO (executive director, head administrator, or whatever the title may be.)  And every truly great nonprofit CEO has a great board.  The two go hand in hand.  There’s no such thing as one without the other.  They are both completely responsible for each other. No finger-pointing allowed.  It’s a relationship that is unique in so many ways.     

So, whether you are a CEO who wants to see greater alignment with and engagement from your board, or a board member who wants to find new ways to support, motivate, and challenge your CEO, there’s work to be done!  

Wherever your nonprofit is in terms of performance – clearly struggling or perhaps striving to remain on a high-performing path – I am convinced there’s only one starting point when considering your future:  The board – CEO relationship. When that relationship is maximized, everything else will fall into place. Both need to be each other’s biggest fans, and both need to fully understand their roles, how they differ, and where they intersect.  Whether your organization is a two or an eight on a 10-point scale for measuring the strength of this core relationship, improving it is the key to achieving high performance. 

After working for nonprofits in five different states for 30 years and having led four of them as CEO, I have seen the nonprofit world from just about every angle.  I believe the upside potential for nonprofit organizations is far greater than most boards and CEOs realize.   

If you’d like to start improving this crucial CEO – board relationship, I recommend blending relationship-strengthening activities into your strategic planning, CEO hiring process, fundraising efforts, performance reviews, succession planning, and visioning process. With a stronger CEO – board relationship, your nonprofit will multiply its impact and accomplish far more with less tension than you ever thought was possible.

 The Peak Solutions team has worked with executives, leadership teams, and boards all over the world to improve organizational health. I’m excited to be helping nonprofits as a part of this team and would love to hear from you. One thing I know for sure is that the sky’s the limit for your nonprofit and for any nonprofit that is willing to take its relationships and culture seriously. I’m here to support you in any way I can!


– Ray

Contact Ray Caraway here.