The non-profit community has eagerly anticipated the release of a new book by Peter Drucker. Managing the Nonprofit Organization: Practices and Principles (HarperCollins Publishers, New York) is an interesting, if somewhat spotty and often rambling book from the for-profit management guru whose prolific work has been embraced by both Japanese and, more recently, U.S. industry.
Mr. Drucker is well-known to U.S. business as an author, lecturer, management consultant and innovator. His books on management, economics and society sit, dog-eared, on the bookshelves of an entire generation of U.S. and Japanese executives. His creative mind, a rarity in the dry world of business management, also extends to two works of fiction.
Years ago, colleagues convinced Mr. Drucker that his management concepts should be applicable to non-profit organizations, despite the absence of a plus sign on their bottom lines. He turned his attention to this area in earnest and formed the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Non-Profit Management.
In one of the recruiting coups of the decade, he recently snatched away Frances Hesselbein from her job as executive director of Girl Scouts U.S.A. and put her in charge of the foundation. Ms. Hesselbein is one of the most respected and accomplished people in non-profit management. And having consulted with Girls Scouts U.S.A. in the past, I can say that Ms. Hesselbein fostered a cadre of supercharged executives who helped turn the organization around within a few years.
Mr. Drucker also turned his attention to production of a 25-hour audiotape set concerned with non-profit management. While expensive for smaller non-profits ($280 for the five-module series; $70 for each module), many executives of larger non-profits I have spoken with feel the audio cassette series is a good value. If nothing else, it makes productive use of travel time. Pop a cassette in your Walkman and the woman sitting next to you on the train won't even bother to brag to you about her grandchildren.
Apparently responding to readers' requests, Managing the Non-Profit Organization is an attempt to bring the salient points of the audio cassette series into print. According to Fred Smith of Leadership Network, the producers of the audiotape series, the five sections of the book correspond roughly to the five modules of the tape series.
Aye, and therein lies the rub.
The book simply doesn't translate well from the spoken word to the written. In many instances, significant points are discussed superficially.
One of the potentially best features of the book, the transcripts of interviews with leaders of note in the non-profit community, falls short of the mark. Again, these vignettes flow smoothly in their audio format, but on the written page they fall flat. Mr. Drucker's pattern of stating questions, then giving his perspectives before the person even has a chance to respond is often distracting.
After putting the book aside following my first reading of it, I admit to appreciating it more as I reread it for this review.
If nothing else, Mr. Drucker has a knack for reducing management to its simplest terms. For those looking for very specific recommendations and techniques, the book will be an exercise in frustration. For those seeking an overview of what a non-profit organization should strive for, the book is a refreshing relief.
In Part One, Mr. Drucker addresses the need for every non-profit organization to have a clear and concise mission statement. If you read nothing else in the entire book, this section is worth the full purchase price. Many of us who consult to non-profit organizations (or to corporate giving programs, for that matter) are frequently frustrated by the lack of attention to this critical task. Yet, everything that an organization is and does flows from that statement of mission (stay tuned for a future column on this topic).
Another effective feature of the book is that each section ends with a chapter entitled, "Summary: The Action Implications." Here we see distilled the wisdom of Mr. Drucker's experience as applied to the non-profit sector.
For example, in the section on mission statements, he begins his summary chapter by saying: "We hear a great deal these days about leadership, and it's high time we did. But, actually, mission comes first. Non-profit institutions exist for the sake of their mission. They exist to make a difference in society and the life of the individual. They exist for the sake of their mission, and this must never be forgotten. The first task of the leader is to make sure that everybody sees the mission, hears it, lives it. If you lose sight of your mission, you begin to stumble and
it shows very, very fast."
In other sections, Mr. Drucker covers marketing, fund development, management, volunteers and self-development, all in the simple, broad brush-stroke style that characterizes the book.
For those of you who are new to non-profit management, for all board members, and for those who simply wish to refresh their perspectives, Mr. Drucker's book is a good addition to your professional library. On a scale of one to 10, this one rates a seven.
Lester A. Picker, a consultant in the field of philanthropy, works with charitable organizations and for-profit companies.