Why Nonprofit Leaders Should Not Stop Talking About Best Practices

Nonprofit leaders share an instinct to maintain the minimum standard of operational competency in their respective areas of responsibility. In short, this is the common survival mechanism that allows our leaders to serve another day.

When a drop in operational competency occurs anywhere within a nonprofit, the leader responsible experiences an immediate and unpleasant response that motivates them to reduce the discomfort as fast as humanly possible. In other words, fix it or start thinking about something else to do.

The discomfort can be reduced in one of three ways.

The first and least desirable strategy is decreasing the perceived importance of the substandard element. This is not a recommended strategy unless you’re a magician with a rabbit up your sleeve or want to collect unemployment.

The second, and most obvious, is raising the operational competency back to the minimum standard. This may save your job but will not necessarily position you for the next big thing.

The third is bringing something new to the system at higher operating levels. This is the point where savvy nonprofit leaders seek out best practices.

A Crash Course on Nonprofit Best Practices

Best practices are the commercial or professional procedures that are accepted or prescribed as being correct or most effective within a given industry or discipline.

There are six main areas of operational competency for nonprofits to manage and at any moment, your area of responsibility could be at risk in any category. The six areas are:

  1. Program Management & Accountability
  2. Fundraising, Marketing & Communications
  3. Governance, Legal & Risk Management
  4. Accounting & Finance
  5. People & Organizational Development
  6. Technology & Business Systems

Each of these categories has many sub-categories and there is little doubt that the remedy to the problem you are experiencing can be found there. You can be assured that your situation likely is not new and someone has already answered the question.

Claim Your New Superpower

Nonprofit leaders can seemingly develop new superpowers by simply learning about best practices and continuing the conversation. Proactively dig deeper into your own area of responsibility and make other changes to lift your department’s operational competency. The right people will notice too. You’ll hear whispers, “What happened to Nancy? It’s like she’s Wonder Woman. She could run this place!”

If you’re the CEO, start plying your department heads with best practice questions. Ask them to do a little research and get back to you with recommendations. Your next-level leaders will emerge. Your operational competency will trend towards excellence. Your impact will improve. Your funding will increase. You will attract and retain the best people. New opportunities will unfold and find you.

Who in your organization should not stop talking about best practices?


Marc is Co-Founder and Principal Advisor of The Center. For the previous 12 years, Marc served full-time as executive and practitioner in three significant yet very different nonprofits, overseeing extensive domestic and international operations.