Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits

9Review by Alice Waagen

Book by Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant

Publisher: San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008

One of my first consulting clients was a small, struggling nonprofit. Being recently sprung from a career in the for-profit corporate world, I was certain that I could “fix” this organization’s internal issues. After all, I had a long career solving workplace issues for large businesses and believed the nonprofit world would certainly benefit from all this wisdom and experience.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although there may be parallel functions and processes in for-profit and nonprofit enterprises, in truth, the two sectors are distinctly and profoundly different.

That is why I consider Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits such an important read. Crutchfield and Grant have produced a groundbreaking work that shifts the focus away from traditional metrics for measuring nonprofit success (such as operating ratios and management efficiencies) and looks instead at social impact.

Methodology: The authors went looking for “high-impact nonprofits,” and after conducting dozens of intensive surveys and interviews to determine which organizations had the most positive impact, they selected 12 organizations that are most effective in accomplishing their missions.

The Top 12: America’s Second Harvest, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, City Year, Environmental Defense, The Exploratorium, Habitat for Humanity, The Heritage Foundation, the National Council of La Raza, Self-Help, Share Our Strength, Teach for America, and YouthBuild.

The findings: Interestingly, Crutchfield and Grant initially hypothesized they would find some distinct quality inherent in the leadership of successful nonprofits. Instead, however, they found that the real secret to these organizations’ success was their ability to work with and through other organizations and individuals — the “it takes a village” concept.

Try this for yourself: Their advice is to borrow from the best in the business and adopt these six strategies:

  • Work with governments and advocate for policy change.
  • Harness market forces and see business as a powerful partner.
  • Convert individual supporters into evangelists for the cause.
  • Build and nurture nonprofit networks, treating other groups as allies.
  • Adapt to the changing environment.
  • Share leadership, empowering others to be forces for good.

The bottom line: Crutchfield and Grant have provided us with a new way to evaluate nonprofit management, one that will yield real results in the worlds nonprofits seek to serve. For anyone involved in the nonprofit sector — whether as a staff member, volunteer, or donor — this book is a must-read.