GuideStar Blog

Facts, Not Anecdotes; Fundamentals, Not Fads

stanford surveyAs long-time students of the nonprofit sector and our civil society, we regularly feel adrift in a sea of anecdotes, stories, and received wisdom. This is a sector in which opaque institutions call for transparency and measurement, while supposedly mission-driven organizations seek to operate with flaccid and oftentimes unmeasurable missions. As alumni of the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) and McKinsey & Company, we are trained to be hypothesis-driven and fact-based: "My kingdom for a few facts!"

Last year, David Larcker, Nicholas Donatiello, and Brian Tayan of Stanford GSB’s Rock Center on Corporate Governance asked for our involvement in a survey on nonprofit board governance conducted in collaboration with BoardSource and GuideStar. The survey results whetted our appetite for facts. This research effort surveyed 924 directors of nonprofit organizations about the composition, structure, and practices of their respective boards. Unsurprisingly, over two-thirds of nonprofit directors said their organization has faced one or more serious governance-related problem in the past ten years. The extensive survey data demonstrated that the skills, resources, and experience of directors simply do not meet the needs of most nonprofits. A majority of directors do not believe their fellow board members are very experienced or engaged in their work. The study also found that board processes and structures are falling far short; for example, nearly a third of directors are dissatisfied with the board’s ability to evaluate organizational performance.

Inspired by the opportunity to add a few facts to the many, personal experience-based anecdotes and assertions about nonprofit management, leadership and performance, we recently launched our own survey focused on leadership and management practices. The 2015-2016 Stanford Survey on Leadership and Management Practices in the Nonprofit Sector is a large-scale research effort that we developed to generate insights on current leadership and management practices in today’s nonprofit sector. This research originated with our 2014 six-part series in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “The Fundamentals of Nonprofit Management”. This current in-depth Stanford survey incorporates different stakeholders in the sector (including nonprofit executives and staff, nonprofit board members, donors/philanthropists, foundation executives and staff, foundation board members, academics, writers, analysts, consultants, and advisors) in order to compare and contrast the practices and perspectives of these different groups.

The survey data will reveal how well today’s nonprofit organizations are managed according to numerous indicators and will identify top areas for improvement in management and leadership practices. The survey questions address topics such as mission, strategy, theory of change, impact evaluation, performance measurement, board governance, fundraising, talent management and succession planning. Stanford PACS, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Stanford CSI, GuideStar, and BoardSource are co-sponsoring this comprehensive survey.

Click to take survey

Completion of the survey is estimated to take approximately 10-15 minutes. Anyone who participates in the survey will receive a summary of the research findings after the survey concludes. In addition, there are PRIZES! Ten survey participants will be selected through a raffle* to each receive a $300 prize. Each of the 10 prize winners can choose either a $300 Amazon gift card or a $300 donation to a nonprofit organization of his/her choice.

To encourage respondents to be completely honest, all responses will be kept in strict confidence. No individual name or organization name will be disclosed, and your individual privacy will be maintained in all published and written data resulting from the survey.

We invite you to participate in our effort to obtain facts!

*Not necessary to complete survey to be entered in the raffle.

Facts, Not Anecdotes; Fundamentals, Not FadsThe preceding is a guest post by William F. Meehan III and Kim Starkey Jonker. Mr. Meehan is the Lafayette Partners Lecturer for 2015-2016 at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and a Director Emeritus of McKinsey & Company. Mr. Meehan is a regular writer, speaker and advisor on nonprofit strategy, governance, performance measurement, as well as innovations in philanthropy, including the role of the internet. At Stanford, he is a founding member of the Advisory Council of the Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society, a faculty member of the Public Management Program and the Center for Social Innovation and a member of the Arts Initiative Council. Mr. Meehan is Chair Emeritus of GuideStar, former Chair of the United Way of the Bay Area and Member of the Boards of the San Francisco Symphony and GiveDirectly.

Facts, Not Anecdotes; Fundamentals, Not FadsKim Starkey Jonker is an advisor to nonprofits, foundations and philanthropists and Executive Director of the Henry R. Kravis Prize in Nonprofit Leadership. Kim recently served as a Visiting Practitioner at Stanford University's Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS). She is a frequent contributor to the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) and is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Thrive Foundation for Youth. Previously, Kim consulted to private sector companies as well as nonprofit organizations while at McKinsey & Company in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Kim also served previously as a Farber Fellow with REDF in San Francisco.

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice
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