Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, a new book on nonprofit effectiveness authored by Heather McLeod Grant and Leslie R. Crutchfield will be published this month (Jossey-Bass). The book is a project of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University.

The diverse organizations studied were:

  • Teach for America
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Self-Help
  • The Exploretorium
  • Environmental Defense (one of my alma maters)
  • City Year
  • America's Second Harvest
  • Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
  • Heritage Foundation
  • National Council of La Raza
  • Youthbuild USA
  • Share Our Strength

A preview article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review describes the six “best practices” of these successful organizations as follows:

1. Serve and Advocate: Ultimately, all high-impact organizations bridge the divide between service and advocacy.

2. Make Markets Work: These groups have learned that tapping into the power of self-interest and the laws of economics is far more effective than appealing to pure altruism.

3. Inspire Evangelists: They build strong communities of supporters who help them achieve their larger goals. They value volunteers, donors and advisers not only for their time, money, and guidance, but also for their evangelism.

4. Nurture Nonprofit Networks: High impact organizations help their peers succeed, building networks of nonprofit allies and devoting remarkable time and energy to advancing their fields.

5. Master the Art of Adaptation: They are exceptionally adaptive, modifying their tactics as needed to increase their success. They have responded to changing circumstances with one innovation after another.

6. Share Leadership: Leaders of these groups distribute leadership internally, cultivate a strong second-in-command, build stron executive teams with long tenure, and develop large and powerful boards.

I suspect everyone who reads this post, the article, or the book will disagree with one or another of the principles enunciated, to say nothing of the organizations selected. Not that these nonprofits are not high-impact. But there are many, many others that are as well … do they all exhibit these qualities as their most distinctive characteristics?

That said, this analysis places a very worthwhile marker for each of us to think about … and improve upon if we can.


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