Monday, November 08, 2010

Book Notes - Forces for Good

Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High Impact Nonprofits, Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant

12 orgs after thousands of interviews of npo execs.
America's Second Harvest
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
City Year
Environmental Defense Fund
Habitat for Humanity
The Heritage Foundation
National Council of La Raza
Share Our Strength
Teach for America
Youthbuild USA

++ Chapter 1 - The 6 practices of high impact nonprofits
1. Advocate and Serve
High impact orgs don't just focus on doing one thing well. They may start out providing great programs but eventually they realize that they cannot achieve systemic change through service delivery alone. So they add policy advocacy to access government resources or to change legislation, thus expanding their impact.
2. Make Markets Work
No longer content to rely on traditional notes of charity or to see the private sector as the enemy, great nonprofits find ways to work with markets and help business 'do well while doing good.'
3. Inspire Evangelists
Great nonprofits see volunteers as much more than a source of free labor or membership dues. They create meaningful ways to engage individuals in emotional experiences that help them connect to the group's mission and core values.
4. Nurture Nonprofit Networks
High impact organizations help the competition succeed, building networks of nonprofit allies and devoting remarkable time and energy to advancing their larger field. They freely share wealth, expertise, talent and power with their peers, not because they are saints, but because it's in their self interest to do so.
5. Master the Art of Adaptation
All the orgs in this book are exceptionally adaptive, modifying their tactics as needed to increase their success.
6. Share Leadership
They distribute leadership throughout their organization and their nonprofit network - empowering others to lead. And they cultivate a strong second-in-command, build enduring executive teams with long tenure and develop highly engaged boards in order to have more impact.

++ Chapter 2 - Advocate *and* Serve
Five Principles for Successful Policy Change
1. Balance Pragmatism with Idealism
They would rather win than be right. They strike a balance between achieving results and maintaining their integrity.
2. Practice Principled Bipartisanship
3. Preserve credibility and Integrity
4. Hire Policy Experience
5. Find Funding for Advocacy

+ Policy advocacy is a powerful force for social change.
High impact nonprofits understand that they cannot achieve maximum results without advocating for policy reform or without accessing the power and resources of government.
+ The best nonprofits both advocate and serve.
Ultimately the two activities reinforce each other.
+ Don't be afraid to jump into the political fray.
+ It's never too late to advocate.

++ Chapter 3 - Make Markets Work
Env Defense Fund and McDonalds' trash issue
Env Defense and FedEx packaging more env friendly and revolutionizing company's truck fleet
Cap and Trade - a market for trading pollution permits

These nonprofits don't seek to act like a business so much as leverage the power of business.

It's hard to change the world without changing business.
There are three ways to harness market forces:
1 - work with business to change corporate practices and make companies more socially responsible.
2 - partner with business to access more resources for their cause
3 - some orgs run their own businesses to generate earned income

++ Chapter 4 - Inspire Evangelists
"I was more interested in building a movement than an organization. The key ingredient of a movement is abandon - you don't hold back. It takes passion, commitment, dedication." - Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity

top cultivation events - transform volunteers into evangelists:
City Year - serve-a-thons - one-day local volunteer events for thousands
Share Our Strength - Great American bake sale
TFA - TFA week

High impact groups are particularly strategic about identifying, converting and cultivating powerful individuals or super-evangelists.

For the social entrepreneur, the solution is to make the network not as a tool for information or resources but as a community defined by a common set of values. The community itself becomes the agent of change - Joel Poolny, dean of Yale School of Mgt.

++ Chapter 5 - Nurture Nonprofit Networks
Adopt a network mind-set
Share Knowledge
Develop leadership
Work in Coalitions

Networks are the future [references to Wikipedia, open source software and The Starfish and the Spider.]

++ Chapter 6 - Master the Art of Adaptation
The Cycle of Adaptation
Adaptive capacity is one term used to describe this phenomenon - and high impact nonprofits have it in abundance.
"It is one thing to deliver a program ... [and another] to know where and how to change programs and strategies so that the organization is delivering on its mission. For an organization to be more than the sum of its programs, it needs the ability to ask, listen, reflect and adapt." - High Performance Nonprofit Organizations - Christine Letts

"The limits to innovation have less to do with creativity and more to do with management systems." - Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators

We observed that 'staying close to the customer,' to borrow a business phrase, is the most common impetus for adaptation.

- listen to the environment
experiment and innovate
evaluate and learn what works
modify programs

- what not to do
Many nonprofits fail to find this delicate balance - they are either so freewheeling that their cultures are more chaotic than creative, or they are so structured that they become hidden bound and paralyzed. But high-impact nonprofits are able to work with this tension.

++ Chapter 7 - Share Leadership
These CEOs take the Level 5 leadership concept one step further. They not only put the interests of their organizations ahead of their personal egos, they often put their overall cause ahead of their organization’s interests.

++ Chapter 8 - Sustaining Impact
People - develop a people strategy and invest heavily in top performers. First what, then who. All the orgs we studied are guided first and foremost by their mission, and this purpose is the primary reason a person will take the job. [opposite of Collins - First who then what]
Capital - find the right sources of funding
Infrastructure - invest in overhead, despite the pressure to look lean

Great read. Not that Ember is even close to being some of this, but here's a few ideas that are percolating:
1 - Policy change [chapter 2] reminds me of global missions strategy.
2 - Love the stuff about leadership and adaptability. Knowing that it's an art and not a science.
3 - What kinds of businesses are out there that align with something like Ember?


  1. Thank you for a great summary; this posting is concise and clear.

  2. hi raquel thanks for reading and commenting.