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Survey Says: Nonprofits Have Room to Grow

Survey Says: Nonprofits Have Room to Grow

Two longtime friends of GuideStar, Bill Meehan and Kim Jonker, just released a report on research they conducted for their important new book, Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector.

That research effort, the Stanford Survey on Leadership and Management in the Nonprofit Sector, offers findings that are most relevant to the GuideStar community. Bill and Kim argue in their book that what distinguishes high-performance nonprofits is their mastery of seven elements that constitute strategic leadership: (1) mission, (2) strategy, (3) impact evaluation, (4) insight and courage, (5) organization and talent, (6) funding, and (7) board governance. Together, these seven components enable an organization to become an “engine of impact.” To achieve impact at scale, a nonprofit must successfully marshal all of those elements. In their survey of more that 3,000 stakeholders from the nonprofit sector, however, Bill and Kim found that a large majority of organizations fell short of that standard.

Among respondents who are affiliated with nonprofits as executives, staff members, or board members, only a small minority indicated that their organization performs at a high level in all seven areas. According to Bill and Kim’s analysis of survey results, more than 80 percent of nonprofits struggle with one or more of those areas. In three of these areas—board governance, funding, and impact evaluation—50 percent or more of respondents indicated that their organization struggles to perform well.

Bill and Kim’s findings with respect to impact evaluation are especially pertinent to our work at GuideStar. The good news is that 80 percent of nonprofit respondents indicated that their organization measures or evaluates its impact and performance in some way. The less encouraging news is that regular evaluation by external parties is much less common. Just 40 percent of nonprofit respondents signaled that their organization follows that practice.  And we know that while more than 140,000 nonprofits have updated their GuideStar Profile, only a small subset of that group have provided meaningful impact data.   

So how does your organization measure up? On which of the seven components of strategic leadership is it strong—or not so strong? To help you find out, Bill and Kim have created a tool, the Engine of Impact Diagnostic, which borrows from the analytical framework that they used to develop the survey. Take a look.

Then, once you clarify how well your organization performs in each element of strategic leadership, you can turn to the book for ideas and tools that will help you increase impact. Engine of Impact distills the knowledge about leading high-performance nonprofits that Bill and Kim have accumulated during more than 60 years of combined experience in researching, advising, and working directly with a broad range of nonprofits.

Bill’s involvement in GuideStar runs deep. He was an early supporter of efforts by GuideStar founder Arthur “Buzz” Schmidt to leverage technology in a way that would empower donors to evaluate nonprofits. Bill also served on the GuideStar board from 1996 to 2012, and he holds the title of chair emeritus. Engine of Impact is, among other things, a culmination of Bill’s longstanding drive to bring greater rigor to nonprofit leadership.  You can find more (including my own endorsement of Engine for Impact) here on the book website.

Currently, Bill is a lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB), where for nearly two decades he has taught a course on managing nonprofit organizations and social ventures. Kim is president and CEO of King Philanthropies, a funder that supports organizations that work to counter extreme poverty in Africa and Asia. She is also a lecturer at Stanford GSB, and previously she was executive director of the Henry R. Kravis Prize in Nonprofit Leadership.

Today, I’m excited to announce that Bill and Kim will be contributing a series of articles to the GuideStar Blog that draw on ideas and examples from their book. Each of the first seven articles—starting next week with a post on mission and mission statements—will cover one of the essential elements that form an engine of impact. An eighth article will focus on how you can leverage these seven elements to scale your organization’s impact. This series, we believe, will give you powerful insights and ready-to-use lessons that will help you in your work right now.

Survey Says: Nonprofits Have Room to GrowJacob Harold is GuideStar's president and CEO. Harold came to GuideStar from the Hewlett Foundation, where he led grantmaking for the Philanthropy Program. Between 2006 and 2012, he oversaw $30 million in grants that, together, aimed to build a 21st-century infrastructure for smart giving. Jacob was named to the NonProfit Times (NPT) Power and Influence Top 50 list in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. He has written extensively on climate change and philanthropic strategy; his essays have been used as course materials at Stanford, Duke, Wharton, Harvard, Oxford, and Tsinghua. Harold earned an AB from Duke and an MBA from Stanford. He grew up in Winston-Salem, NC, where his parents ran small, community-based nonprofits.

The image at the beginning of this post is reproduced from Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector, by William F. Meehan III and Kim Starkey Jonker, Forward by Jim Collins. Copyright © 2017 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr. University. All rights reserved. No further reproduction is allowed without the publisher's prior permission,

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice High-performing nonprofits nonprofit effectiveness