Creating High-Impact Nonprofits
Using research on 12 of the most successful nonprofit organizations in recent U.S. history, working in a variety of social causes, this article discusses the lessons for any nonprofits aiming to impact society significantly. It highlights six “myths” of nonprofit management, as well as six common practices of highly successful organizations.
“Conventional wisdom says that scaling social innovation starts with strengthening internal management capabilities. This study of 12 high-impact nonprofits, however, shows that real social change happens when organizations go outside their own walls and find creative ways to enlist the help of others.”
The six myths are important, but don’t in themselves lead to having a truly big impact:
- Perfect Management
- Brand-Name Awareness
- Breakthrough New Idea
- Textbook Mission Statements
- High Ratings on Conventional Metrics
- Large Budgets
These are the six common practices of high-impact nonprofits that help spur other sectors of society into cooperative action. (The 12 nonprofits reviewed in the article use most but not all of these.)
- Serve and advocate. Great programs and services are not enough to make change; eventually, organizations must advocate policy.
- Make markets work. Nonprofits must find ways to work with markets and help companies “do good while doing well.”
- Inspire evangelists. Strong communities of supporters are needed to achieve larger goals.
- Nurture nonprofit networks. High-impact nonprofits cultivate relationships between other nonprofits to share wealth, expertise and talent freely.
- Master the art of adaptation. High-impact non-profits must adapt their tactics in order to increase the chances of success.
- Share leadership. Leaders of high-impact organizations distribute leadership within their organizations and networks, empowering others to lead.
This article formed the basis for the book Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits which was among The Economist‘s ‘Top 10 Business Books of the Year’ for 2007.