Monthly Archives: January 2008

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.)

Where do I see ICPJ in 5 years

New Years are always a good time to look ahead. So what do I see in the future for ICPJ?

  • Stronger member follow-up. I think one of the major areas ICPJ can grow in is following up after someone signs up or comes to an event. If we consistently thank people for coming, listen to their interests, and invite them to get more involved, I believe it will yield more members, more money, and more impact.
  • Open to grassroots initiatives: ICPJ should strengthen its culture and structure so that we are open to people coming in to lead new initiatives, with clear agreements to how we can support and nurture them. Not all innovation can or should come from the Board or staff.
  • A commitment to build grassroots leaders. All our program committees should be empowered to lead themselves in their programs that support the ICPJ’s mission as a whole. This means that staff may need to do less doing and more teaching so that our members have the skills and abilities to organize campaigns, work with the press, lead lobbying efforts, run meetings, and so on. This training component is essential if we are to be open to new initiatives. Without it, we are setting people up for, if not failure, at least mediocrity.
  • Increase our reach and diversity. I think we have growth potential getting out of our comfort zone and building ties with communities of color, evangelicals, Ypsi, Western Washtenaw, and other religious groups.
  • Results-focused campaigns. This one is controversial. ICPJ has a grand vision of a world free of war and injustice. I think we can do a better job of identifying the campaigns that will take us there and that will let us look back and see how we’ve made progress. Let’s identify some changes we can win, then dedicate the resources necessary to win them! What would it take to move Dingell to oppose the SOA? What would it take to increase bus service to Ypsi and Willow Run? Can we do that? If so, let’s do it! Let’s put the energy and intensity into winning some of these changes rather than always being weighed down by them.
  • Highly responsive. I confess, I think we’ve been slow to adequately respond to emerging issues like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our structure is great for doing what we’ve always done. Not so great for taking on new issues. In the future, I want to see ICPJ be more nimble in responding to these new issues. If that comes from people approaching us as described above, that’s great. If not, we need to be able to lead a response. (The hard part is figuring out how to balance this responsiveness with fidelity toward our long-standing concerns. I still haven’t figured that one out).

This is a top-of-the-head, speaking for myself only blog post. The Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice is a community, and where we go in the future is up to the community as a whole. These are my thoughts. I may not get my way in all of them, and in conversation with the community my thoughts may change.

Practicing discontentment

As we begin 2008, I’ve been doing some goal setting using the Magnet Goals method developed by Marc Pitman.

I have no doubt that this process can lead to positive changes. My question is: is it also a way to practice discontentment?

As I go through the process, I don’t see myself counting my blessings. I see myself looking for every way that my life is somehow less than idea or lacking. I look for things to be unsatisfied with so I can change them.

Is this a good thing?

I used to be content with a cup of Folgers to wake me up. That gave me pleasure. Now, I hold my nose at Folgers and drink premium coffee. I’m not sure my snobbishness is progress.

Right now I’m very content with my life. I hope this goal setting process doesn’t make me see my life now the way I used to see Folgers.

Your mission is bigger than your organization. Remember that.

The Exploratorium, a science museum in San Francisco, has made what appear to be some horrendous business decisions.

They started out okay. They built a top-notch experiential learning museum that gets kids touching and expereincing science education, not just staring at dusty vacuum tubes.

Then, after developing this great model, they gave it away. 

They encouraged other museums to copy it. They even paid to train other museum staff on their model. And until recently, they didn’t even charge other museums to use the Exploratorium’s own exhibits.

And what happened?

They revolutionized science education and museums.

Across the country they have had a dramatic impact in how science is taught. Their impact extends far beyond their own facility.

This “terrible business decision” worked because they aren’t a business. They are following a mission. And they will help other educators who are also following that mission.

And that’s a big reason why they have been featured in Forces for Good as a high-impact nonprofit. It’s a lesson we can all take to heart.