Monday, October 27, 2008

Achieving Excellence in Nonprofits

The Harvard Business School Working Knowledge e-mail today features a brief interview with Professor Herman B. Leonard about Achieving Excellence in Nonprofits. The article is in the form of Q&A by Sean Silverstone on October 27, 2008.

The discussion centers on the Professor’s interpretation of a nonprofit as a “social enterprise”. “The organization has as its main purpose the advancement of a set of social goals and the creation of social value.” This is not limited to nonprofits however. It includes social enterprise by nonprofits and for-profit businesses and corporate responsibility.

The defining feature of these organizations – boards and CEOs - is whether they are mission driven for social purposes or private purposes.

He says these are the core issues for nonprofits at this time:
  • Keeping the focus on key goals, strategies and tactics to accomplish the goals
  • Remain mission-centered rather than shift the mission to fit funding or other forces
  • Have a firm grip on the tactics used and on the vision of the organization
  • Have a written mission statement that shows the promise of social value
  • Are the board and the CEO working for the same mission, goals and vision?
  • Turmoil is part of life; you cannot plan for it, you adapt to it
  • The future of the sector should be on mission performance and not so much on financial performance
  • Change – it is always present; how is it used for systemic change and furthering social values?

I have tried to give a taste to encourage you to go read the original brief interview.


Herman B. Leonard is the Eliot I. Snider and Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and the George F. Baker, Jr. Professor of Public Sector Management at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

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