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Friday, December 21, 2007

Forces for Good

Forces for Good
This book, Forces for Good, has been a long time in coming. In the 1980’s Tom Peters and others helped to revolutionize the for-profit sector of the US through the publication of books such as In Search of Excellence and A Passion for Excellence. Jim Collins added to this treasure with the publication of Built to Last and Good to Great.

While these books made passing reference to the nonprofit sector, the truth is that most books devoted to nonprofits dealt with the process—how to build a better board, how to raise money, etc. There weren’t any books that provided an empirical analysis of high impact nonprofits, as In Search of Excellence provided for excellent for-profit organizations. That huge void has now been filled and filled admirably by Leslie R. Crutchfield and her co-author, Heather McLeod Grant as presented in the book, Forces for Good (Jossey-Bass).

Where In Search of Excellence identified twelve practices of "America’s Best-Run Companies," Forces for Good identifies the six practices of high-impact nonprofit organizations. In other words, Crutchfield and Grant identify practices common to nonprofit organizations that focus on results, rather than on the process.
They put it this way, "We get caught up in measuring the wrong things, because the things that really matter are often more difficult to measure." AOL founder, Steve Case, says it this way in his introduction to Forces for Good, "This thoughtful book provides what business people, policy makers, philanthropic investors, and nonprofit leaders have needed for a long time—an intelligent articulate analysis of the key factors required to generate successful, lasting outcomes in the nonprofit space."

Historically donors and philanthropists have judged the worthiness of a nonprofit on a single dimensional basis—how effective and efficient the organization is in raising funds, period. That was it and still is it for well-intentioned groups like the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) who basically limit their analysis to the effectiveness of an organization in collecting funds. Is your cost ratio to raise a dollar good? If so, you are a great organization. If not, you are an organization unworthy of support. In fairness, AIP does endeavor to take into account the amount of money allocated to overhead vs. that spent on projects and programs, but in truth, creative accounting and cost allocation can present a less-than-complete picture of a nonprofit organization. Moreover, such an analysis does not even attempt to determine how effective the group is in reaching its objectives, i.e. is it really a force for good?

In fact, Crutchfield and Grant have this to say about the various analysis groups which limit their evaluation of costs, ratios, etc. –"These ratings web sites can tell you which groups have the lowest overhead ratios, but they can’t tell you which have had the most impact." (page 18) They address this topic again near the close of the book (page 203), "The problem with using these metrics is that they fall into the trap of measuring financial inputs or ratios as a proxy for success, rather than measuring impact, or the amount of change accomplished with that investment. Worse yet, they assume that nonprofits can implement programs without any infrastructure or support. They may encourage donors to support groups that spend too little on people, IT systems, or management, which can lead to weak organizations at best, or accounting trickery at worst."
Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, calls Forces for Good "Inspired and inspiring." David Gergen, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, says, "For people who want to change the world—and who doesn’t? – This book provides an invaluable road map. Bravo!"

This is the most important book on evaluating the impact and worthiness of donating to a nonprofit that I have ever read. If you are starting a nonprofit, work for one, or are a donor to nonprofits, this book is a must read.

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