Creating High-Impact Nonprofits

By    Sep 7, 2011

This is a study of twelve high performing nonprofits, all in existence for more than ten years, organizations that faced similar social, political and economic circumstances. The twelve were nominated by almost 3,000 executive directors of nonprofits as organizations that had achieved a high impact. Sixty experts in nine different fields helped analyze the survey results and narrow the number of nonprofits to be examined. McLeod and Crutchfield then began a multi-level, two-year study of the twelve high impact organizations including San Francisco’s Exploratorium, Teach for America in New York and America’s Second Harvest in Chicago.

The authors assumed that their success was due to traditional habits like brilliant marketing, well-tuned operations and rigorously developed strategic plans. To their surprise, achieving high impact for the twelve was not about building a great organization and then scaling it up site by site or dollar by dollar. It was not about perfect management, brand name awareness, breakthrough ideas, textbook mission statements, high ratings on conventional metrics or even large budgets.

Rather, these high-impact nonprofits worked with and through organizations and individuals outside themselves to create more impact than they ever could have achieved alone. They built social movements and fields; they transformed business, government, other nonprofits and individuals and they changed the world around them. It was all about leverage.

Their six key practices: serve and advocate, make markets work, inspire evangelists by involving them in the core work, e.g., Habitat for Humanity, nurture nonprofit networks, master adaptation and share leadership.

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