Do you know a nonprofit that is always in some sort of chaotic state with everyone running around and no systems, but somehow still manages to do important, good stuff?
And on the other hand, do you know any nonprofits that are like smoothly running machines — checking off everything on the management audit — but aren’t really having any real impact on the world?
Most of know at least one of each of the above two types! We bemoan them both. We might dub the first one the "Disorganized Doer and Shaker" and the other one the "Orderly Chair Occupier."
The fact that both types of organizations exist is evidence of something very important, yet seldom said: good management does not necessarily lead to high impact.
Good management is certainly a good thing, and good management can support high impact. But the organization with the up-to-date personnel manual, the gorgeous financial statements and the four-color annual report could also be the stale organization that is just coasting on its reputation and name recognition.
This leads us to the other question that we seldom ask ourselves in nonprofits: are our programs really as terrific as we say they are?
Great management systems hid a disconnect with community
We know a prestigious nonprofit serving low-income young people that became the poster child for good management by a large national consulting firm that worked with this nonprofit in strategic planning. Shortly after the case study was published, the nonprofit’s executive left to work at a large foundation. Her successor was shocked and dismayed to discover that this well-managed icon had very weak programs and impact. She commented in a newsletter, "I need to find out why kids don’t like us" (paraphrased).
The reality is that we seldom question the value of our programs. We are eager to critique our management systems, but we shy away from critiquing our programs. We are not embarrassed to say that our accounting systems are out-of-date, but we seldom admit (or even think) that our programs might be out-of-date.
In short, we need to work separately on management and on program impact. We cannot assume that focusing our attention on improved management processes will mean we have high impact.
* This issue we have the sequel to the Vanguard Foundation story, and an unusual take on diversity from an unusual angle. Plus how to find and hire an accountant, and a visit with a panda (or maybe how to hire a panda and photograph an accountant?). — Jan Masaoka