What makes a good nonprofit great – six useful questions

What does it mean to be a great nonprofit?  How do great nonprofits compare to good nonprofits?  And how do we get there?

This was the topic I was asked to explore at the Tonic Conference for nonprofits, held in Tauranga, Aotearoa New Zealand and put on by the good folk at Exult.

Here are six questions which, in my opinion, are useful to explore on our path from good to great.

1.  Do we use our vision as a touchstone for decision making?

2. Does our board and team reflect our community?

3. Do we put our community first?  (Even, if necessary, ahead of our own survival?)

4. Can we articulate why we do what we do?

5.  Are we a learning organisation?

6.  Do we have robust relationships within our organisation and with our stakeholders?

There’s more detail in the full presentation below – and feedback and debate most welcome.


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  1. Hi Kate

    Another insightful post and presentation. Three comments:
    1. In your presentation you mention challenging power structures. This is a very difficult space to play in and often very uncomfortable, especially if you are not part of the power base. It can be very lonely working in this territory!
    2. I think great organisations also need to have a clear view of their long term sustainability options. Possibly this needs a very close examination of the role of businesses and how to link business activity to the social change processes of any social change organisation. There is a lot of good thinking in the “Shared Value” literature to support how this can happen.
    3.I read a very good paper on Systems Leadership by Senge et al. 2015: “The Dawn of System Leadership” – Great organisations may need a dose of this as well.

    1. Thanks for this feedback John and especially for the pointer to the “Dawn of System Leadership” article – here’s the link if others are interested: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_dawn_of_system_leadership. This really resonated – I particularly liked the advice that system leadership requires ‘opening the mind (to challenge our assumptions), opening the heart (to be vulnerable and to truly hear one another), and opening the will (to let go of pre-set goals and agendas and see what is really needed and possible).
      Not easy but oh so important.

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