Are Nonprofit Best Practices Stupid?

Do you ever feel like a dog chasing its tail, with your nonprofit constantly chasing elusive solutions?

Issues such as donor retention, volunteer turnover, and board member engagement are just a few of the persistent problems continually plaguing nonprofits.

You’ve attended training and conferences, and you pay attention to what others are doing. You are working hard to implement recommended best practices that the nonprofit sector subscribes to. But difference-making results aren’t coming.

Why continue to do what doesn’t work?

Perhaps best practices that don’t produce positive outcomes are stupid.

Speaker colleague Stephen Shapiro is an expert on innovation. His book Best Practices Are Stupid examines why applying conventional solutions to conventional problems can be a barrier to success.

Stephen’s book provides action strategies for incorporating innovative thinking as a way to identify effective approaches to organizational issues.

He offers three reasons why best practices are stupid.

  • Replication is not innovation. If you are copying others, you are playing a game of catch-up.
  • What works for one organization may not work for another because there may be no cultural or strategic fit.
  • Practices we label as best may not even be the reason an organization has become successful.

Despite your best efforts, what results aren’t happening for you? Are you stuck in neutral and unable to move forward?

Being immersed in the day-to-day can cause creative blinders that block your path to success.

According to Stephen, often it’s a fresh perspective that generates breakthrough solutions. New product applications (think back to sticky notes) that completely revitalize a business and answers to difficult problems can come from sources with no apparent connection to those struggling with a tough challenge.

What’s not being done can affect performance as much as doing what isn’t working.

The MacArthur Foundation is an example of funders beginning to change their approach to funding charitable causes. They realized what they weren’t doing had a significant influence on the effectiveness of their efforts.

In the past, the Foundation provided financial support without regard to focused giving and without concern for measurable outcomes. That has changed with their shift to a concentrated strategy for specific support targets and their desire to ensure maximum impact for their investments by adopting expectations for results.

Evaluate your practices to see if they are producing positive outcomes. If they’re not, change them.

Start taking innovative action by answering these three questions.

  • What current practices should you reconsider?
  • What new practices should you adopt?
  • Who or what resources can be a source of transformative thinking for your nonprofit?

Don’t let conditioned behavior hold your cause back.

Rather than follow best practices that may be wrong for you, adopt practices that will make a transformational difference.


Want to read more about adopting innovative practices? These articles will help.

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