3 Principles of Great Non-Profits

Below are insights I gained from Jim Collin’s monograph Good To Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer.

Principle #1: Cultivate Discipline
“A culture of discipline is not a principle of business, it is a principle of greatness.” -Jim Collins As it is often quoted, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” We can have the greatest strategy in the world, however, if we do not build up the virtue of discipline it is hard to take good non-profits into greatness!

Questions I am asking myself:
“In what areas of my job do I lack discipline?”
“Where in our organization do we lack discipline?”
“Where in my personal life do I lack discipline?”

Principle #2: Redefine “Great”
In a for-profit business, metrics for greatness have traditionally been straight forward, “Are you profitable?” However, in the non-profit sector this rule of thumb obviously does not apply. So, what are we left with as a criteria to see if non-profits are succeeding or failing?

  1. Success must be accessed relative to mission, not financial returns.
  2. Determine measurable inputs and outputs. This can help with accountability towards the
    mission.

Bottom Line – Just because an organization is well funded doesn’t mean they are a “great” organization. Begin to ask yourself if the non-profit is living out its mission with the resources it has!


Questions I am asking myself:
“What does “great” mean for our organization?”
“What inputs and outputs are we measuring to see if we are living out our vision?”

Principle #3: Focus on people above funding
I believe this point is summed up very well by Jim Collins,

“The number one resource for a great social sector organization is having enough of the right people willing to commit themselves to a mission. The right people can often attract money, but money by itself can never attract the right people. Money is a commodity, talent is not. Time and talent can often compensate for lack of money, but money cannot ever compensate for lack of the right people.”


Questions I am asking myself:
“Do we have the right people on the bus in our organization?”
“Do we have the right people in the right seats on the bus in our organization?”
“Are we investing in people?”

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