Building an Impactful Non-Profit Organization

Working in the nonprofit sector is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It’s not without its frustrations, but when you’re associated with a well-run organization the rewarding experiences far outweigh the frustrations. What should come as no surprise is that great non-profits are not created by accident. In their book Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector, authors William F. Meehan III and Kim Starkey Jonker share key factors that go into building a well-run, impactful organization.

Meehan and Jonker note seven key factors for establishing impactful organizations. They all have value but three of them really resonate with me:

  • Mission
  • Strategy
  • Measurement

You’d be surprised how many nonprofits either don’t have a mission statement or have one that very few of those associated with the organization can articulate. Meehan and Jonker consider a clear, focused mission statement as the foundation of building an impactful organization. Key words: clear and focused. This is when everyone knows the who, what, and why of the organization. The mission is internalized and all associated with the organization are consciously aware of the mission and how their actions are in service to it.

The mission not only establishes the who, what and why of an organization but it informs and gives shape to the how; The organizations strategy. What I found most insightful in Engine of Impact was the concept of theory of change. Meehan and Jonker put it this way “Theory of change drives the broader strategy, including the design of specific interventions or programs. Strategy is the “plan of how,” a plan of action that translates the theory of change into how the nonprofit will actually achieve its mission.” The book provides an example of what a theory of change logic model looks like. I was familiar with outcome logic models, but seeing it in this way was an eye opener for me, and I now see it as indispensable to building an impactful organization.

Once the strategy has been developed and implemented, measuring and evaluating results come next. The organization needs to determine what information needs to be collected and evaluated, how they want to collect it, and then use it to determine what’s working and what’s not. The process informs what aspects of the strategy needs to improve, change, or be eliminated. These core three: mission, strategy, and measurement are just part of what goes into building an effective organization, one that has a positive lasting impact on those being served.

Meehan and Jonker go into much more detail on these and the other elements that go into building an impactful nonprofit. Regardless of size, or how long your organization has been around, if being a part of something great is important to you, Engine of Impact is must reading. I highly recommend it.