Learning the wrong lessons: Great organizations can’t ignore good management

In Forces for Good, the authors spend a lot of the time emphasizing that the great nonprofits they studied weren’t always the best managed.

Fair enough, but there’s a danger there. They may not need to be the best managed, but they do need some level of management.

Their research even proves this point. When discussing adaptation, they quote Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators who note that the “limits of innovation have less to wo with creativity, and more to do with management systems.”

You need good management and systems to get good innovation.

Crutchfield and McLeod Grant  even have a full chapter on “sustaining impact” that argues for investing in people, infrastructure, and systems.

Yes, great nonprofits are about great focus on mobilizing people toward the mission. That external focus is essential. Management is not the point and shouldn’t get the top focus. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore it.

(Maybe I’m defensive here because right now Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice in Ann Arbor is in the midst of doing a lot of management updates. We’re spending time getting our books in order, creating procedures for adopting new programs, and creating clear personnel policies. These won’t make us a great nonprofit, but they will make us a better one.)

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