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Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector

Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector


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"As a philanthropist constantly grappling with how I can achieve more impact, I found Jonker and Meehan's insights to be provocative and engaging. They go beyond the typical rhetoric regarding 'what the nonprofit sector can learn from business' and give these organizations their due—with great advice. Nonprofits are dealing with often intractable societal problems of enormous complexity and uncertain revenue streams. These authors appreciate the weight on leaders' shoulders, while offering a detailed roadmap to maximize their impact. A must-read."

—Jeff Raikes, Co-Founder, Raikes Foundation, former CEO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Chairman, Stanford Board of Trustees

"No one knows the not-for-profit sector and its most effective leaders better than Meehan and Jonker. Their book is a master class on what it takes to drive meaningful impact. In tackling the fundamental questions—strategy and focus, discipline and accountability—the authors get to the heart of what every mission-focused leader needs to understand. Engine of Impact is a book to read and re-read—the definitive guide for all who aspire to lead high performing and high achieving organizations."

—Sally Osberg, President and CEO, Skoll Foundation, and co-author of Getting Beyond Better

"Bill Meehan and Kim Jonker have decades of experience in rigorously evaluating what makes organizations operate—or fail to operate—at a high level. In Engine of Impact, they leverage that deep knowledge to create a smart, compelling guide to doing good by leading well."

—Jamie Dimon, Chief Executive Officer, JPMorgan Chase

"Engine of Impact is an essential handbook for every aspiring social sector leader and philanthropist. Creating social impact is an art and a science, requiring investments of heart and mind. Meehan and Jonker's outstanding analysis combines the intense rigor of business strategy with the critical soft skills of courage and creativity to equip us with the toolkit necessary for transformative social change."

—Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, Founder,, author, Giving 2.0, Founder and Chairman, Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, and Founder and Chairman, Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund

"Building and leading great non-profits is a socially vital—but managerially daunting—endeavor. Enter Bill Meehan and Kim Jonker who, in simple and lively prose, draw upon deep research and lived experience to deliver the essential field guide on how to do it right. All of us—donors, volunteers, board members, executives, citizens—are in their debt."

—Dominic Barton, Global Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company

"In an era when the work of nonprofits is ever more essential, Meehan and Jonker deliver critical insights, strategic guidance, and inspirational lessons from the front lines. Readers will benefit enormously from their candor and clear-headed wisdom. We're awash in business books, but the nonprofit sector has been wanting for its own evidence-based guide. In Engine of Impact, they have it. I strongly recommend this book for nonprofit leaders, funders, and anyone seeking to optimize humanitarian impact."

—Jacquelline Fuller, President,

"This book will change most readers. Its style is very direct. It sees the future. It draws on both the classics and the authors' deep knowledge of our field. It is practical, and it cares."

—Bill Drayton, CEO & Chair, Ashoka

"Engine of Impact is an indispensable tool for today's nonprofit leader. Drawing on their considerable expertise and insight, Meehan and Jonker provide a framework for dedicated executives who are committed to building organizations that are worthy of their missions."

—Matt Bannick, Managing Partner, Omidyar Network

"The social sector has long needed a book like this one, which emphasizes a businesslike approach to doing good at scale. When the bottom line is measured by impact on human lives, the best intentions are never enough. By applying lessons in management excellence, this book will help nonprofits achieve significantly better results."

—Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chairperson, BRAC

"Bill Meehan and Kim Jonker have written a playbook for those who are not satisfied with doing some good, but want to do as much good as they can with their time and talents. This is a vital topic, and I'm excited to see how the next generation of nonprofit leaders applies the ideas and insights in this book."

—Cari Tuna, President, Good Ventures, and Managing Director, Open Philanthropy Project

"Hard-hitting and willing to express decisive, experience-based views, this book is sophisticated, evidence- and ideas-based. A 'how and when to do it' guidebook, it is also a pleasure to read."

—Joel Fleishman, Professor of Law and Public Policy Sciences, Duke University, co-author, Give Smart

"Every engine needs a tune up from time to time. Even the strongest organizations will find value in Engine of Impact. With inspiring stories and cogent frameworks, Meehan and Jonker show us that social change is an art and a science that demands rigor and spirit. With guidance like this, we can find a path to a better world."

—Jacob Harold, President and CEO, GuideStar

"If you're a nonprofit leader who cares deeply and passionately for the people and causes you serve, you will love Engine of Impact. Bill Meehan and Kim Jonker are quintessential big thinkers, but their insights do not come from 'on high.' This is practical wisdom at a human scale, reinforced with great examples. You will come away from this book with real optimism that we are, indeed, entering a new era of impact."

—Mario Morino, Chairman, Morino Institute, Co-founder, Venture Philanthropy Partners, and author, Leap of Reason

"An inspiring and essential guide for every social entrepreneur."

—Paul Brest, Professor Emeritus, Stanford Law School, and co-author, Money Well Spent

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804796439
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication date: 11/14/2017
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

William F. Meehan III is the Lafayette Partners Lecturer in Strategic Management at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and a Director Emeritus of McKinsey & Company. Kim Starkey Jonker is President and CEO of King Philanthropies, Lecturer in Management at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and the former Executive Director of the Henry R. Kravis Prize in Nonprofit Leadership. Together, they co-authored the popular Stanford Social Innovation Review series, "Fundamentals, Not Fads."

Table of Contents

Contents and Abstracts

1The Primacy of Mission
chapter abstract

This chapter discusses the importance of a focused mission for a nonprofit organization, the characteristics of a well-conceived mission statement, and examples of nonprofit organizations that used their mission to guide strategic decisions. The authors posit that executing a focused mission statement is critical for becoming a high-performing organization and often is the impetus for embracing new challenges that are aligned. The authors warn nonprofit organizations against mission creep and diversification of program activities, which occurs frequently to appease funders. At the same time, the authors set out exceptions to the rule by delineating specific circumstances in which it might make sense for a nonprofit to consider broadening its programs.

2The Few Strategic Concepts That Matter
chapter abstract

This chapter identifies the few strategic concepts that matter to a nonprofit organizations as it develops a plan of actions to achieve its mission. These strategic concepts include the following: theory of change, Oster's six-forces model, assessing core competencies and skills across the value chain, and strategic planning processes. The authors discuss strategic questions faced by nonprofits through the lens of these tools and provide examples of nonprofits that have successfully adopted these tools to inform their strategy.

3Count What Counts
chapter abstract

This chapter argues for establishing rigorous impact evaluation that can provide feedback on whether an organization's theory of change and strategy are achieving its mission. The chapter begins with a discussion of existing tools and approaches for impact measurement and evaluation and the challenges to their effective adoption. The bulk of the chapter consists of seven specific ideas to help move impact measurement and evaluation forward as the basis for decision making by nonprofit executives and staff, as well as philanthropists. Each idea is supplemented by examples of nonprofit organizations that have successfully adopted that idea in their day-to-day operations. This chapter includes discussion of concepts such as translating qualitative goals into quantitative measures, randomized control trials, cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis, and feedback loops, as well as being early, managerial, transparent, and external.

4Insight and Courage
chapter abstract

This chapter argues that insight and courage are critical starting points on the road to building truly paradigm-shifting, high-impact nonprofits. Insight and courage are as essential as a focused mission, logical theory of change, and rigorous impact measurement to "earn the right" to more philanthropy. The authors provide examples of leaders such as Bill Drayton, Roy Prosterman, Duncan Campbell, and Vicky Colbert who have founded nonprofits based on their particular insights into social change. The authors also describe the experiences of Sakena Yacoobi and Sal Khan in displaying courage. Insight and courage are the sine qua non of nonprofit strategic leadership—without them, there is nothing.

5Your Team of Teams: Building and Sustaining a High-Performing Organization
chapter abstract

This chapter discusses an emerging organizational model (called team of teams) and distills six principles of high-performing nonprofit organizations. Team of teams is an organizational model being developed and adopted by Ashoka. Other organizations such as Pratham are adopting elements of team of teams as work becomes increasingly project and team based. The six principles of high performing organizations are (1) the importance of mission from Peter Drucker, (2) emphasis on a performance-driven environment from McKinsey, Murray, and Marmol, (3) "first who . . . then what" from Jim Collins, (4) fact-based decision making from Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, (5) simultaneous loose-tight properties from Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, and (6) succession planning. The discussion of each principle includes examples of organizations that have successfully adopted these principles.

6Money Matters: Funding as Essential Fuel
chapter abstract

This chapter provides practical advice and tips for improving your organization's ability to obtain the funding it needs to achieve your mission. The authors lay out six principles to build an effective fund-raising and development culture to raise maximum money through donations. These principles include (1) starting with your board; (2) going where the money is, that is, wealthy individuals; (3) learning from institutions such as universities, museums, hospitals, and performing arts organizations that excel at raising financial support from ultra-wealthy individuals; (4) meeting donors where they are; (5) investing in fund-raising capabilities; and (6) mastering the "ask" for money to support a nonprofit. The authors provide examples of organizations that have adopted these fund-raising principles as well as synthesizing tips and observation from leading fund-raising experts and consultants.

7Board Governance: Do What Works
chapter abstract

This chapter discusses the state of board governance in the nonprofit sector and outlines five principles of effective nonprofit governance. Each principle is a call to action for nonprofit executives and board members as they seek to build effective governance practices for their organizations. These principles include (1) demanding that your organization's mission is clear, focused, and understood by the board; (2) evaluating the executive director on the basis of a sound process, (3) ensuring impact measurement processes that provide feedback on whether organizational strategy is achieving its mission, (4) composing the board such that it has all requisite resources, and (5) evaluating and sustaining your own board. The discussion of each principle includes examples of organizations that use these principles to achieve high-performing governance.

8Scaling: Leveraging the Seven Essentials to Magnify Your Impact
chapter abstract

This chapter breaks down the process of scaling a nonprofit organization into assessing readiness to scale and how to scale. The authors posit that much attention has been given to the latter, while the former remains an ignored issue in the sector. To this end, this chapter introduces a readiness-to-scale matrix, a managerial tool that nonprofits can use to evaluate the fundamentals of strategic leadership and management as practiced at their organization and consequently decide whether they are ready to scale or not. The authors synthesize their own observations and that of other thought leaders on the subject of how to scale. The chapter concludes with a discussion of nonprofits that are scaling successfully.

Conclusion: Strategic Leadership: Now Is the Time
chapter abstract

The conclusion serves as the author's final call to action for strategic leadership on the part of nonprofit leaders. After reiterating the massive opportunity to have unprecedented impact through fact-based decision making, the authors outline the implications of strategic leadership for different stakeholders: philanthropists and major donors, everyday donors, nonprofit board members, and nonprofit executives. The book concludes with an appeal to all stakeholders in the sector to apply the tools of strategic leadership as a means for increasing the performance of nonprofit organizations and the sector overall.

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