Non-profit management tapes offer 25 hours of words of wisdom

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING CAN BE BORING, REPETITIOUS AND IRKSOME

August 05, 1991|By LESTER A. PICKER

Listening to Peter F. Drucker's words of wisdom on non-profit organization management is a delight. Listening to his words of wisdom for 25 hours is something less than delightful. In fact, it's downright boring, often repetitious and sometimes irksome.

I recently reviewed Mr. Drucker's 25-hour audiotape series called "The Nonprofit Drucker," produced by Leadership Network (P.O. Box 9090, Tyler, Texas 75711. $280 for the entire set; $70 for individual modules). The five-module set covers these topics: Mission and Leadership; Strategies; Performance and Results; People and Relationships; and Managing and Developing Yourself. The entire series is directed at leaders of non-profit organizations, both small and large.

Each module is designed to be self-contained, meaning that you won't need the entire set to understand the context. However, taken as a whole, the series offers an uncommonly good way to introduce new board members to non-profit work, or to refresh experienced staff and board members about the nuances of non-profit leadership.

Each module contains five double-sided tapes, each running approximately 30 minutes. Each module begins with an introduction to the topic by Mr. Drucker and ends with his summary. Interspersed are a series of interviews with people of note in the non-profit community. These include such achievers as Frances Hesselbein, former executive director of Girls Scouts of the USA; David Hubbard, chief executive officer of the Fuller Theological Seminary; and Philip Kotler, the academic who has pioneered work in social marketing for non-profit causes. Interestingly, Ms. Hesselbein is now director of the Peter F. Drucker Foundation, which is devoted to helping non-profit organizations improve their management.

Mr. Drucker also interviews people who have achieved success in the corporate world, such as Michael Kami, the former strategic planner for IBM. They offer insights that are applicable across the broad spectrum of management. In this, Mr. Drucker pays a high compliment to non-profit leaders.

The tapes offer the listener a diverse set of topics in management, all of them critical to today's non-profit leaders. They are comprehensive, thoughtful and tastefully produced, without being overly slick. The conversations between Mr. Drucker and his guests are usually informative. Interspersed throughout the tapes are Mr. Drucker's familiar themes, such as "Change is not a threat, it is an opportunity."

We also get wonderful glimpses into the values that have made his management consulting so successful. For example, in discussing volunteers, Mr. Drucker offers this sage advice: "By setting forth a vision and high standards, you attract the best volunteers. Require them to work hard."

Mr. Drucker begins his series with the most important themes for any non-profit organization: mission and vision statements. As he aptly points out, everything an organization does and stands for flows from these expressions of their values and actions. More harm stems from an organization's lack of mission and vision statements than any other cause.

In the second module, Mr. Drucker points out how strategies are a natural extension of the statement of mission. When an organization is on target in respect to its mission, that is the very time to improve -- not in the throes of crisis. In one of the better interviews in the series, Mr. Kotler, a marketing expert, tells the listener that effective strategies include four basic elements: comprehensive plans, people, effective marketing and money.

After the third module, though, problems arise. Key concepts are often repeated and then beat to death by Mr. Drucker and guests. While I listened to the tapes over a period of two weeks while driving on Interstate 95, I found some of the discussions profoundly boring.

And, the guilt of it all. Here I'm listening to the venerable elder statesman of marketing, squeezing the wheel with both hands, trying to get him to talk faster. Am I the only one who is distracted by Mr. Drucker's painfully slow, deliberate style of talking? It's times like these that relieve me of any delusions of my Type-A personality mellowing with age. I still think the tapes would have been improved with an active moderator and faster pace.

Despite the relatively minor objections, are the tapes worth the tTC relatively steep price? The answer will vary, depending on circumstances. Small non-profits may wish to use selected modules or opt for other resources that cover the same topics. Larger non-profits would do well to have this resource in their libraries. The executive director of one of the nation's largest youth service agencies told me he kept the tapes in his office for use by new executives and board members. However, he confided that he had only listened to selected segments himself.

Les Picker, a consultant in the field of philanthropy, works with charitable organizations and for-profit companies.

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