ENGINE of IMPACT: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector



Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector

By William F. Meehan III

Kim Starkey Jonker


Introduction: Strategic Leadership in the Impact Era

P. 1 “We are the dawn of a new era—the impact Era—in which non-profits will play an ever more vital role in supporting, safeguarding and sustaining civil society.”

P. 19 “The practice of strategic leadership involves not just doing good work but also doing that work in a highly intentional and highly effective way.”

P. 19 “An engine of impact, as we call it, starts with the mission of an organization. That mission is the very air that people in the organization breathe as they do their work.”

P. 20 “Helping to generate power for an engine of impact are the twin “turbines” of insight and courage.”

P. 20 “To operate its engine of impact, meanwhile, an organization must draw on three varieties of fuel: well-managed talent and organization, sustained and sufficient funding, and effective board governance.”

P. 20 “When the engine works well, it creates thrust, or what we call impact.”

P. 20 “Strategic leadership in short, equals strategic thinking plus strategic management.”

P. 22 “Talent is a critical source of fuel for every organization, but talented people will thrive in an organization only if they have strong and responsive leadership.”

P. 23 “Nonprofit leaders must recognize that if they want to save the world, they have to knock on doors and ask for money.”

Part 1: Strategic Thinking—Build and Tune Your Engine of Impact

P. 29 “A mission-driven organization should pursue its mission like a lodestar that will always keep it on course.”

P. 29 “A well-conceived mission statement that can guide an organization in making key decisions should do the following:

  • Be focused
  • Solve unmet public needs
  • Leverage distinctive skills
  • Guide trade-offs
  • Inspire and be inspired by key stakeholders
  • Be timeless
  • Be “sticky” – clear, understandable and easy to stay with over the long term

P. 44 “If you think that your organization’s vision is an essential element of its mission, then includes it in your mission statement.”

P. 45 “A clear focused mission statement is a necessary foundation for becoming a focused and effective organization.”

P. 45 “The ultimate test is not the beauty of a mission statement—The ultimate test is right action.”

P. 67 “An organization’s strategy must be built on its distinctive skill, or skills.”

P. 72 “The most important goal of excellent strategic planning is shaped by process rather than end product.”

P. 73 “Don’t underestimate the time and effort required for an effective strategic planning process.”

P. 73 “Remember that effective strategic planning is based on issues, not calendar.”

P. 90 “Strategic thinking can’t make real progress until it is supported by a feedback loop.”

P. 91 “If possible, don’t wait until your organization is firmly established to start measuring impact. Instead, start early and let evaluation results guide your program activities as you grow.”

P. 92 “Evaluation should be more than a onetime endeavor that tells an organization whether to shut down a program or to keep it going.”

P. 102 “Great nonprofits invariably start with a profound insight, that is, a distinct and compelling viewpoint about how social change can come about, including a sense of one’s personal role in that change.”

P. 111 “Courage, like insight, is an indispensable aspect of nonprofit strategic leadership.”

P. 112 “We cannot supply you with courage, but we can offer you examples that might help you find it.”

Part II: Strategic management—Fuel Your Engine of Impact

P. 121 “Your organization is only as good as those people within it who embody your mission and tirelessly strive to achieve it—your organization is only as good as your people—and how you organize and lead them.”

P. 123 “Empathy is foundational to the ability to resolve conflict, collaborate in teams, align interests, listen effectively, and make decisions where there are no rules or precedents—to solve problems and drive change.”

P. 130 “Those who build great organizations make sure they have the right people on the key bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the key seats before they figure out where to drive the bus.”

P. 131 “Letting people go, when appropriate, will not only improve the efficiency of an organization; it also sends a powerful signal about the values of that organization.”

P. 133 “Organizations must tightly manage things in a few areas even as they enable creativity and flexibility in other areas.”

P. 136 “There’s nothing more important in generating social impact than taking great care in selecting and developing the people engaged in the work.”

P. 136 “Great ideas don’t change the world, great people do.”

P. 153 “If you don’t know where to start, consider the power of networks.”

P. 169 “Make sure that your organization has a clear mission that is focused where the organization has the necessary skills/resources and embraced by the board, management, and other key stakeholders.”

P. 172 “Hire, fire and evaluate your executive on the basis of a sound, objective, ongoing process.”

P. 175 “Compose and structure your board using transparent structures and processes that support effective decision making.”

P. 176 “In determining the appropriate composition of a nonprofit board, you are unlikely to go wrong if you remember the venerable idea of the three Ws: work, wisdom, and wealth.”

P. 183 “The right time for the executive director and staff to bring up issues is early in the process, when board members can give real input and have a dynamic discussion.”

P. 195 “The primary role of nonprofit leaders is not to grow the size of an organization, or even to reach more people, but to achieve the greatest possible impact.”

P. 197 “Cost-efficiency and cost-effectiveness are critical for scaling, but impact must remain the top priority.”

P. 200 “Scaling typically requires proactive action to build necessary skills, resources, and processes.”

Priyanka Uprety