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After completing five years of rigorous and extensive research on 1,435 "Fortune 500" companies during a 30-year period (1965-1995), Jim Collins and his associates selected only eleven that met their admittedly "very tough standards" for greatness. (Note: Collins also wrote Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great, published four years later.) Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant acknowledge that Collins' book was a "real inspiration to them" as they surveyed more than 2,000 CEOs of nonprofits before selecting only twelve for examination in their book, Forces for Good. As is true of several other outstanding business books, the work on this one was driven by a question: "What makes great nonprofits great?" What Crutchfield and McLeod learned is shared in this volume.
It is worth noting that, until recent years, most of the books and articles about nonprofits (at least those with which I am familiar) suggested that they had much to learn from exemplary for-profit organizations. It may have been Peter Drucker who first recognized that the business world could learn much of value from studying the best-managed nonprofits. He wrote an article published in Harvard Business Review in July of 1989, "What Business Can Learn from Nonprofits," that was later reprinted in Peter Drucker on the Profession of Management, in 1998. Drucker suggests that The Salvation Army is characteristic of the best nonprofit organizations, especially in terms of motivating knowledge workers and increasing their productivity. In successful nonprofit enterprises, "amateurs are being replaced with unpaid staff members, many of whom are managers and professionals in their for-pay jobs. They volunteer because they believe in the mission; they stay because they are given responsibility for meaningful tasks, held accountable for their performance and rewarded with training and the chance to take on more demanding assignments."
According to Crutchfield and Grant, high-impact nonprofits (i.e. those who have "created real social change...have come up with innovative solutions to social problems, and have spread these ideas nationally or internationally") demonstrate all or most of six practices:
1. They both advocate what is urgently needed and commit resources in response to that need
2. Are "pragmatic idealists" who combine social values with business "smarts" to "make markets work"
3. Build a community of evangelists as a powerful force for social change by communicating their mission, vision, and values as well as creating meaningful experiences
4. Adopt and maintain a network mind-set to share resources and empower other organizations
5. Constantly adapt and modify their tactics and initiatives while maintaining "the balance between stifling bureaucracy and unbridled creativity"
6. Support growth by developing high-impact leadership internally, widely distributing authority as well as responsibility among those involved in the given enterprise
Crutchfield and Grant devote a separate chapter to each of these six, then suggest in Chapter Nine how to put them in action. By now they have answered the original question. Great nonprofits are great because they are "working with and through others, as counterintuitive as that might seem. It's about leveraging every sector of society to become a force for good....[moreover] high-impact organizations bridge boundaries and work with others to achieve greater levels of change than they could accomplish alone."
What about all the other nonprofits? How can they make what Collins characterizes as a "leap" from being only mediocre or good to great? Stated another way, how can these other nonprofits also become effective agents of change and have high-impact? Those who lead them "need to bridge boundaries and understand how to influence without authority. They will need to see the larger system and their role in it - not just their own interests...[They must] be influential enough to convince the CEOs of global corporations to change their ways, and to make the business case, as well as the moral case, for doing so...Above all else, nonprofit leaders must learn how to share power an empower others - if they aren't already doing so." The six practices can help to guide and inform their efforts while leading the change initiatives that are needed. What to do and where to start? For specific and practical advice, please see Figures 9.1-9.6 inserted sequentially throughout pages 214-220. That advice is best revealed within the narrative so I shall say no more about it.
Because the nature of philanthropy is changing as donors seek more evidence of impact from their donations, even the high-impact nonprofits must make adjustments to sustain their effectiveness and thereby their appeal to benefactors. "Rather than just providing services or a basic charity, they're doing much more. In the process, they are redefining what it means to be an effective nonprofit." Keep in mind that in this context, Crutchfield and Grant are talking about the twelve exemplary nonprofits. Even they must complete the transition from the old paradigm to the new paradigm. (Please see Exhibit 9.8 on page 223.) "Non profits operate at the intersection of society's major sectors. The best of these organizations take advantage of their unique role and their unprecedented opportunity to create greater impact. To win at the social change game, it's not about being the biggest or the fastest or even the best-managed, nonprofit. The most powerful, influential, and strategic organizations [begin italics] transform others [end italics] to become forces for good."
The importance of adaptability cannot be exaggerated. At one point in their narrative, they refer to The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations in which Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom examine the impact of decentralized networks. "Spider organizations have rigid hierarchies, top-down leadership, and centralized decision-making" whereas "Starfish [organizations] are highly decentralized, relying on peer-to-peer relationships, widely distributed leadership, and collaborative communities united by shared values. Decapitate a spider and it will die; with the headless starfish, cut off an arm and it will regenerate into a new arm while the old arm grows into a new starfish. That is why Crutchfield and Grant view the starfish model as a perfect metaphor for nonprofits. Hence the title of this review.
Those who share my high regard for Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant's brilliant book are urged to check out the aforementioned Drucker article as well as Braufman and Beckstrom's book. Also, Drucker's Managing the Nonprofit Organization: Principles and Practices, Tom Ralser's ROI For Nonprofits: The New Key to Sustainability, a Dean Spitzer's Transforming Performance Measurement, and Enterprise Architecture As Strategy co-authored by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson.