Forces for Good: a brief review

Forces Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High Impact Nonprofits
by Leslie Crutchfield & Heather McLeod Grant (Jossey-Bass)

[review originally in Social Enterprise Magazine with a strict word limit: hence the brevity…]

This book could not come more heavily garlanded with praise from the other side of the pond and, as the name might suggest, it is an American book written primarily for an American audience. And there is plenty to raise the hackles of a cynical Brit: from effusive acknowledgements (running to four pages) to occasionally alienating business school jargon (“bench strength” etc.). But if you can get past those, there is much here to inspire and inform.

The six practices are:
1) to serve and advocate;
2) to harness market forces;
3) to inspire evangelists;
4) to nurture nonprofit networks;
5) to master adaptation;
6) to share leadership.

Some of these may strike you as obvious, others as simplistic, but the book goes into each in depth, and draws out further useful principles and case studies under each heading. And there’s much else of interest on the way, as you would expect from a book based on four years of research. Such as the average length of tenure of the CEOs of these high-impact organisations (just under 21 years) and the average size of their boards (just under 24): a stark contrast to the turnover rate and size that is often recommended here.

Most crucially, the book focuses on the scale of impact, not scale of budget or scale of organisation, and on action. For those social entrepreneurs and social enterprises trying to achieve such impact in the current climate, the most relevant points are to cultivate a network mindset (partner, collaborate, share, empower) and to be adaptable. Then more of us might still be a force for good on the far side of the recession. 


[added today:]

Looking back, it's definitely the network mindset aspect of the book that has stayed with me, along with the length of tenure not necessarily being a bad thing (one feature of SSE at the moment is that a majority of the staff have been with the organisation for between 3 and 7 years). The network mindset seems so obvious, and yet inter-organisational competition is still a feature of many in the sector: genuine partnership based on trusted relationships is hard to find, but prospers wherever it does. But knowing that such successful organisations focus on a network mindset, and believe in a combined service + advocacy model (SSE remains delivery-centric but has increased its policy and advocacy work, again in partnership), definitely helps reinforce and affirm the approach we are taking.

Still worth a read…and, reading my own review, probably worth a revisit!

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