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Sustaining Nonprofit Performance

Sustaining Nonprofit Performance: The Case for Capacity Building and the Evidence to Support It

Paul C. Light
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 211
  • Book Info
    Sustaining Nonprofit Performance
    Book Description:

    "The nonprofit sector survives because it has a self-exploiting work force: wind it up and it will do more with less until it just runs out. But at some point, the spring must break." America's nonprofit organizations face a difficult present and an uncertain future. Money is tight. Workloads are heavy, employee turnover is high, and charitable donations have not fully rebounded from the recent economic downturn. Media and political scrutiny remains high, and public confidence in nonprofits has yet to recover from its sharp decline in the wake of well-publicized scandals. In a recent survey, only 14 percent of respondents believed that nonprofits did a very good job of spending money wisely; nearly half said that nonprofit leaders were paid too much, compared to 8 percent who said they earned too little. Yet the nonprofit sector has never played a more important role in American life. As a generation of nonprofit executives and board members approaches retirement, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that their organizations are prepared to continue their missions -that they are built to last in a supremely challenging environment. Paul Light, renowned expert on public service and nonprofit management, strongly argues for capacity-building measures as a way to sustain and improve the efforts of the nonprofit sector. With innovative data and insightful analysis, he demonstrates how nonprofits that invest in technology, training, and strategic planning can successfully advance their goals and restore public faith in their mission and capabilities. He explains the ways in which restoration of that faith is critical to the survival of nonprofits -another important reason for improving and then sustaining performance. Organizations that invest adequately in their infrastructure and long-term planning are the ones that will survive and continue to serve.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-9662-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Business

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1 The Pressure to Perform
    (pp. 1-12)

    These are times that try the nonprofit soul. Hardly a day goes by without a news story about a nonprofit or philanthropic foundation gone wrong. Congress seems ready to put strict limits on how much nonprofits can spend on administration and fund-raising. State attorneys general continue to grind through a seemingly endless list of investigations. A deeply divided nonprofit sector remains mostly silent in its own defense. Not surprising, perhaps, public confidence has hit a contemporary low.

    Even as nonprofits face unrelenting scrutiny, the so-called jobless recovery has yet to produce a surge in charitable giving. Federal, state, and local...

  5. 2 The Logic of Investment
    (pp. 13-43)

    This book starts from the premise that nonprofits make miracles every day. Name a difficult national or international problem since World War II, and the nonprofit sector has played a role in addressing it, whether through its research, innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, or advocacy.

    Consider the government’s greatest achievements of the past half century, which were identified in a survey of 450 leading historians and political scientists.¹ Nonprofit advocacy was essential to the success of the civil rights movement, for example, which produced three of the federal government’s top five achievements: expanding the right to vote (number two), ending discrimination in...

  6. 3 The State of Nonprofit Capacity Building
    (pp. 44-85)

    Just because organizational capacity matters to effectiveness does not mean that efforts to strengthen capacity actually work. Indeed, there is very little hard evidence that capacity building produces a significant rate of return on investment, not because capacity building has a dismal record, but because it has almost no measurable record at all. Although there are plenty of stories about how capacity building can change organizational life, including some told in this chapter, there is relatively little evidence of measurable impact.

    To the contrary, the available evidence suggests that capacity building in the private sector has a very high rate...

  7. 4 The Case for Capacity Building
    (pp. 86-122)

    However the term is used, capacity building involves an activity such as planning, reorganizing, merging, downsizing, assessing, auditing, installing, training, recruiting, measuring, treating, and so forth. As such, the case for capacity building hinges on finding a positive relationship between the activity and organizational effectiveness, whether measured by short-term outputs such as morale, expertise, productivity, or efficiency or by longer-term outcomes such as higher performance.

    There are many methods for building the case, including expensive structured surveys, such as the one on which this chapter is based, which cost more than $250,000. Largely driven by funding constraints, the best work...

  8. 5 Improving the Odds of Success
    (pp. 123-135)

    Despite its potential impact on organizational effectiveness, capacity building is far from automatic or easy. Roughly a quarter of the 318 efforts chronicled in this book were either somewhat successful or less, two-fifths of the survey respondents said their organization’s effort taught them that change is very stressful for their staff, and more than half said they learned that change is more difficult to achieve than expected.

    Some of these complaints are embedded in the basic rules of the sector, rules that Clara Miller of the Nonprofit Finance Fund says create a shadow universe of unintended consequences in which surpluses...

  9. 6 The Spiral of Sustainable Excellence
    (pp. 136-176)

    Imagine nonprofit life as a journey up and down a spiral. All organizations would start with a simple idea for some new program or service and then move up the spiral toward greater and greater impact. Also imagine five landings, or stops, along the climb: the organic phase of life in which they struggle to create a presence in their environment, the enterprising phase in which they seek to expand their size and scope, the intentional phase in which they try to focus themselves on what they do best, the robust phase in which they strengthen their organizational infrastructure to...

  10. Appendix A The Capacity-Building Survey
    (pp. 177-190)
  11. Appendix B Capacity Building in Low-Income-Serving Children and Family Organizations
    (pp. 191-196)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 197-202)
  13. Index
    (pp. 203-212)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-214)