Book's five questions provide self-examination basis for nonprofit groups

NONPROFITS INC.

January 09, 1995|By LESTER A. PICKER

If you believe in the KISS philosophy, as I do, then Peter F. Drucker's newest workbook for nonprofit organizations is the neatest thing since sliced bread.

The Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management has developed a two-part workbook series designed to help nonprofit boards assess their entire organization. The first part is workbook for individuals as they work through self-assessment. The accompanying booklet is a facilitator's guide.

"The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Nonprofit Organization" is exactly what it claims to be. The Drucker Foundation staff, headed by Francis Hesselbein, former executive director of Girl Scouts USA, has taken the five questions that Drucker always drills home with nonprofits and has distilled them into a workbook that is as valuable as it is simple.

The questions that Drucker asks are:

* What is our business [mission]?

* Who is our customer?

* What does the customer consider value?

* What have been our results?

* What is our plan?

Each question contributes separately to an assessment process that is, at the end, finally woven together to give a board a clear indication of where the organization is. The facilitator then produces a report based on guidelines provided in the facilitator's guidebook. The Drucker Foundation has debugged the assessment tool with different nonprofits of all sizes.

As Drucker says in the introduction, the self-assessment tool "forces an organization to focus on its mission." Hurrah for that contribution to nonprofit management, alone. This theme is consistent with Drucker's previous works on nonprofit management. What's new is the practical tools added to his theoretical and sometimes pedantic teachings.

The tools also foster communications between senior staff, board members and other volunteers. In fact, many of the deceptively simple questions that board members must answer are geared to dig up dissent. "Over the years, I've learned that constructive dissent can be used effectively," Drucker says in the forward to the workbook. "By using the Self-Assessment Tool, you are forced to listen to each other. And suddenly you understand each other."

As I've said before many times in this column, a board of directors operates at its best when it debates the organizational mission, policies and values. Implementation is best left to experienced staff. Drucker's assessment tool forces a board to operate at this level.

If there is one flaw in the Drucker Foundation program it is in its unrealistic recommendation that addressing the five questions can be done in one sitting of 3 to 4 hours. My recommendation would be that other formats and venues would be more appropriate, such as full-day retreats or sequential board meetings devoted to addressing and debating the questions.

The book also links mission with performance. As Drucker points out, pinpointing the mission leads to goal setting, to which are attached objectives, which lead to action steps, a budget and an appraisal process. But the mission also needs to be tightly focused and nonprofit leaders need to do a better job of saying "no."

The forms that come with the workbook are simple, designed to encourage free-wheeling response and debate. That immediately raised a concern for me, that of the role of facilitator.

My recommendation to those who use the Drucker self-assessment tool is that the facilitator be experienced and outside the organization. One suggestion is that two dissimilar organizations "swap" chief executives to lead each other's board through the assessment process.

One thing is certain for boards that use the Drucker program. They will undergo a highly charged, invigorating process, which will keep them focused on their proper roles. The result is bound to be a more effective organization.

"The Five Most Important Questions" is available from Jossey-Bass Publishers (415-433-1740). The workbook is $11.95 and the Facilitator's Guide is $19.95.

Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at The Brokerage, 34 Market Place, Suite 331, Baltimore 21202; or call (410) 783-5100.

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