Disconnect Between Management and Impact . . . editor notes issue #79

Do you know an organization that is disorganized and crazy, but somehow manages to do important work? (Yes, we all do.)

And do you also know of an organization that is perfectly organized, could check off every box on the management audit, yet is accomplishing absolutely nothing? (Yes, we all know one of these, too.)

What does it tell us that both these two types of organizations exist? Answer: that strong management does not necessarily result in strong impact.

Most of us in nonprofits unconsciously make an assumption: that if we improve our organization's accounting, HR, planning, operations, or other processes, our mission impact will be stronger. But while better management can support impact, it doesn't necessarily do so. If it did, we wouldn't see either the disorganized-but-high-impact or the highly-professionalized do-nothing agency.

To strengthen the degree to which we change the world, we can't just see organizational improvement within a management framework. We have to tackle impact as a distinct matter, and address it with the courage to call our own impact into question. But wouldn't we rather be remembered for having amazingly accomplished something in the world rather than having always up-to-date personnel files and clean audits? (Um, yes.)

* This issue we welcome a new writer, Jeff Angus, writing on donor-advised funds. Let us know what you think.

* We also discover whether a person needs to show up for work, whether a board composition matrix is useful, whether nonprofit CEO salaries are too high, and of course, how to get away from your desk for a soaring, 3-minute vacation.

Enjoy your summer. Thank you for being understanding about our less-frequent publication schedule. And don't forget to pass Blue Avocado on to a friend or colleague. Take care, Jan Masaoka, Susan Sanow, and the Blue Avocado team

Comments (20)

  • I've read blueavocado since before it had that name and have a number of articles printed out. I reread them to remind me of things I should -- or shouldn't -- do, how to do them, etc. It's a great service to the nonprofit sector.

    Jun 11, 2012
  • thanks again for your work, and most especially: for giving it away. Stuart Scadron-Wattles

    Jun 11, 2012
  • THANKS. It is my first time to read Blue Avocado. Jan Masaoka is a good thinker and writer. Cecil Carter

    Jun 11, 2012
  • I think the premise here is slightly off -- "good management" isn't about accounting, HR, and other processes. It's about aligning your team around clear and ambitious goals, measuring progress against them, and holding people and the organization accountable to them; building a strong team of talent; and creating a culture that emphasizes performance, results, and constant improvement. If you look at management that way, then yes, impact absolutely will follow.

    Jun 11, 2012
  • Anonymous

    Good to see you back Always enjoy reading

    Jun 12, 2012
  • Jan.... I thought your "apology" for having a "sometimes" publishing schedule
    was touching......especially since ANY non-profit leader can identify!

    But the most important message I want to feed back to you is that Blue
    Avocado is WELL WORTH THE WAIT! This issue has SO MUCH timely and relevant
    information in it, that I can't decide which idea to put into action first!

    Thank you for being a beacon of hope and despair for us over the years, and
    don't you dare retire any time soon!

    Thank you for being the connector......

    Jun 12, 2012
  • Anonymous

    Thank you for Blue Avocado! I look forward to receiving each "issue". I save articles and refer to them often. No problem about the less-frequent publication schedule just as long as they keep on coming.

    Jun 12, 2012
  • Anonymous

    I think this premise is a bit flawed. Yes, unorganized and poorly managed organizations can still do good. But my experience is that they are also fraught with waste (waste of other people's money), full of frustrated employees, and only doing a small fraction of the good work they could be doing if their business was well run. A well-run business that doesn't fulfill its mission or as you put it, "accomplishes absolutely nothing", is not a well-run business. My guess is that it is all 'smoke and mirrors'. A truly well-run nonprofit will always serve its mission, its employees, and its supporters better than one that is constantly in a state of panic or dealing with unnecessary drama, or always re-inventing the wheel.

    Jun 12, 2012
  • You all are fabulous! I saved two articles emailed the board matrix to board members and signed up for vote your mission!!! Thanks Jan. Debbie Marsteller Executive Director, Project Independence

    Jun 12, 2012
  • Organizational competence and service delivery competence are not opposites. They are both necessities. If you can't keep your house in order, you won't be able to get money to deliver services. David M. Patt, CAE

    Jun 13, 2012
  • Anonymous

    My take on this premise is that the error is equating "good management" with "organized"...they're not the same thing. Certain structures DO need to be solid for an organization to thrive (e.g., accurate accounting), but a solid organization also must have room for the creative-thinking, visionary-type leaders. And those creative minds often belong to the most-scattered and unorganized individuals, including many Executive Directors. Ideally, the organization has the structure that will allow "unorganized" management members to express their creativity, but have solid mid-level staff that keeps the agency financially stable. I think problems arise when management surrounds itself with the same type of personalities as their own, often leading to one of two scenarios; 1), where everyone and everything is organized & structured, thereby creating a stifling environment that rarely does anything new, or 2), the opposite, where everyone is creative and dreaming up new projects weekly with no structure to support it, resulting in utter chaos, wasted effort, etc. An ideal situation exists when management hires personality-types that are the opposite (and therefore complimentary) of their own. A creative thinker needs task masters around them, and task masters need at least some creative thinkers. Striking a balance between the two, and creating an environment where the two work styles can comfortably mesh, is of course challenging, and will require leadership that can acknowledge and respect the needs of both work styles.

    Jun 13, 2012
  • You all are fabulous! I saved two articles emailed the board matrix to board members and signed up for vote your mission!!! Debbie

    Jun 14, 2012
  • I understand where you are coming from, but have to disagree. Assuring impact is an absolutely key indicator of high performing nonprofit management. Your piece sounds like you are conflating "management" with "administrative systems."

    I reference our document, Seven Areas of Nonprofit Excellence, which is the foundation for our New York Community Trust-New York Magazine Nonprofit Excellence Awards program. It recognizes and encourages excellent nonprofit management, and is rooted in an analysis of the key areas that at least 16 state and regional associations of nonprofits around the country generally agree represent excellent management. Note that focusing on results (which ideally involves tracking outcomes) is listed first - not by accident.

    I think it is dangerous when we shrink our definition of management to administrative systems: this leads down that path that then lumps it all together and calls it "administrative overhead" - and wants it shrunk down to a bare minimum in terms of effort and cost. Properly understood, I believe, nonprofit management as a profession is actually very much a form of leadership. In fact, I would argue (along with Peter Drucker and a long list of other students of the profession) that it is the key form of nonprofit leadership, far outweighing board leadership over time in determining whether most nonprofits are 'amazingly accomplishing something in the world rather than having always up-to-date personnel files and clean audits." (In other words, whether they are fulfilling their missions.)

    Michael E. Clark President Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York

    Jun 14, 2012
  • I agree with you and w/ Mr. Michael Clark. I agree that efficient systems doesn't equal success. And I agree with Mr. Clark that perhaps different word choices would have helped nail down that point. "Management" isn't a sterile, non-effectual, solely administrative/numbers/systems practice or profession. It's leadership. It's tied to understanding the theory of the business at hand. It leads towards impact. It makes clear paths to high-impact and effective results. Disorganized, yet high-impact operations (I like to think of myself in this category as I look around my not-so-uncluttered office) could probably experience a higher level of impact if there were more refined systems... as long as the systems were designed to facilitate results, not to merely check boxes off in an audit.

    Jun 14, 2012
  • Always good reading at blue avocado......this recent article about management
    and impact really hits home - at ANEW we're evolving, changing....it's an
    organic business plan now focused on leveraging our Board members and their
    business leadership strengths - giving me the space and support to create!

    I appreciate the content that you and your team pull together....even though
    it's not going to be received as frequent, it will make it that much more fun
    to receive in anticipation of your articles!

    Jun 14, 2012
  • Thanks very much to Michael Clark and others for pointing out that I should have been sharper and more rigorous when using the word "management."

    I don't want my sloppy use of words, though, to detract from what I still think is an important point. Many of us in nonprofits are quite open to criticisms of administrative matters ("oh our personnel files are a mess") and we frequently embark on administrative improvement projects. I don't see us being as willing to criticize the quality or impact of our programs, or to embark on quality deepening projects with the same openness that we embark on other efforts.

    Thanks to everyone who has commented for making ME think more deeply, and to take more care with expressing myself in the future. Jan

    Jun 14, 2012
  • i enjoyed this issue of blue avocado - both content and photos - maybe fewer issues brings even more quality

    Jun 18, 2012
  • Dear Jan! I am so privileged to have been knocked off balance by your keynote when we gathered in Chicago two weeks ago for the Summit on Advanced Volunteer Engagement! I only wish your talk had been recorded in order that I could listen as needed. I'm a brand-new subscriber to Blue Avocado as a result of meeting you that day. Thanks for inviting us to have those verboten conversations our sector so deeply needs to risk having. LinMarie

    Jun 30, 2012
  • Thank you, LinMarie, for such a nice note! It's a privilege to hang out with volunteerism activists for a day! Jan

    Jul 04, 2012
  • Anonymous

    I think it's more expected nowaadys than ever before that your committees and councils would include the rugmakers themselves as well. I work for a large funder and our projects have been funded by large federal funders (such as National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, etc.), all of which require target population represenation on projects, councils, etc.

    Aug 17, 2012

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