Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

Kick these tires before you embark on challenging roads ahead

Last week, we introduced Mission-Based Management by Peter Brinckerhoff and his three philosophies that informed his 30-plus years in the successful business of guiding causes. They are:

“Nonprofits are businesses.”

“No one gives you a dime.”

“Nonprofit does not mean no profit.”

He convincingly demonstrates the truth in each of these points throughout the book and in each of the management competencies he explores—from leadership, governance, and finances to marketing, mission, ethics, and more.

But what exactly do these philosophies mean?

It’s worth asking and answering because these “Brincker-isms” are not a passing phase. Brinckerhoff has written three editions of Mission-Based Management—much to the appreciation of the sector. In other words, the nonprofit sector has kicked the tires and liked the journey in this book. So let’s take a closer look at what informed so many other readers’ decisions after reading it:

Nonprofits are businesses. “Your organization is a mission-based business, in the business of doing mission,” claims the author. He adds we don’t have license to be sloppy or ignore a good idea simply because it was originally designed for the business sector. “Using good business skills as a mission-based manager does not, I repeat, not mean dropping services simply because they lose money, nor does it mean turning people away because they cannot pay. But it does mean paying attention to the bottom line, having a strategic vision, and negotiating in good faith and from a position of strength—in short, being businesslike in pursuit of your mission,” explains Brinckerhoff.

No one gives you a dime. Brinckerhoff explains that nonprofits don’t get gifts. If a donor writes you a check for $100 to your social services organization, she isn’t making a donation. Rather, she is purchasing services for someone or some family she will never meet. Brinckerhoff says the business community calls this giving money in exchange for an expectation of outcome. When you purchase concert tickets, you have an expectation of entertainment. When you purchase an airline ticket, you have an expectation of transportation. When you send money to a nonprofit, you have an expectation of service. In other words, “you earn all the money you get,” asserts Brinckerhoff. An interesting paradigm shift.

Nonprofit does not mean no profit. Brinckerhoff encourages you to consider this point. Making money in a nonprofit is legal. Nowhere in the state or federal law does it say nonprofits cannot make a profit. He asks, “If you cannot make a profit, why do you need a tax exemption?” Profit is essential and a key tool for financial empowerment, a subject the Brinckerhoff covers at length later in the book.

As you move forward with your organization, ask yourself if anyone on your team subscribes to the thinking Brinckerhoff tries to overcome in these three philosophies. If so, how is he affecting your decision-making and outcomes? I know, it’s challenging to turn the corner on new thinking but well worth the effort.

Challenging terrain ahead

While I have you thinking about challenges, I’ll add one more. We asked consultant Raylene Decatur what she thought was most challenging about being a mission-based manager today:

CausePlanet: Where do nonprofit managers most commonly find challenges with leading a mission-based organization in your experience?

Decatur: Discipline is the number one challenge. The manager may be a disciplined individual but leading a disciplined department, division or organization is challenging. In a corporation, the bottom-line (profit and loss) creates discipline. Mission-based organizations have multifaceted impacts, which lack the quantified clarity of financial results. The board members, staff and volunteers may each love that mission differently and each be pulling the organization in slightly (or profoundly) different directions. It is the manager’s job to harness that energy and achieve the organization’s stated outcomes, year in and year out.

If you find yourself looking for a comprehensive analysis of how high-impact nonprofits lead their causes, consider Mission-Based Management; it’s grounded in Brinckerhoff’s road-tested philosophies and you’ll benefit from years of wisdom gained from many journeys.

See also:

Building Nonprofit Capacity: A Guide to Managing Change Through Organizational Lifecycles

Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World

Forces for Good: Six Practices of High Impact Nonprofits

Image credits: Brinckerhoff,,



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