Aug 08 2017

The Quiet Challenge of Social Sector Leadership: Creating Psychic Income, Part 1

Social enterprises are supposed to pay attention to the double bottom line—bring about a social good while generating income and excess return. But this concept fails to capture a third, equally important focus for non-profit leaders—creating “psychic income.”

So what, exactly, is psychic income?

It’s the value you create when people know you really listen because you’ve helped them achieve what they really need.

  • Value comes in the form of more dedicated staff and volunteers, committed board members, enthusiastic investors, loyal clients and customers, and repeat donors.
  • Really listening is a proxy for really caring. People know you care (and return this in kind) when you go beyond the transactional exchanges that typify most interactions and move toward authentic engagement.
  • Real needs, while varying widely across individuals, include wanting to be understood, affirmed, involved, and recognized in meaningful ways for their contributions.

Can it be this simple? Yes, at least conceptually.

The tricky part is meeting these amorphous, diffuse, and shifting needs while delivering tangible social good and generating revenues and reserves. There’s only so much time in the day and limited emotional bandwidth among staff and volunteer leaders to make this a reality.

Taking donors and trustees to lunch, providing evocative exposure to your good works, giving voice to their aspirations through board involvement, and recognizing contributions through awards and publications are all important ways to establish and maintain connections.

Likewise, engaging employees through life affirming work, providing flexible work arrangements, and giving younger colleagues greater responsibility earlier in their careers are all ways to build loyalty and longevity among professional staff.

But these, alone, are not enough to create psychic income. There’s more to it than that.

In the last few decades, we’ve gotten much better at raising money and expectations but less so at sustaining emotional connections with those on whom our success depends. Our progress in generating financial income hasn’t been matched by greater adeptness in generating psychic income. This means that social sector leaders must find ways to forge deeper bonds and offer more authentic and co-creative encounters with their most influential stakeholders.

In Creating Psychic Income, Part 2: Six Actions That Enable it to Flourish I’ll describe the specific actions you can take to begin creating greater levels of psychic income in your organization.