Engine of Impact: A book review by Bob Morris

Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector
William F. Meehan III and Kim Starkey Jonker
Stanford University Press (2018)

Here’s a “common language, a new way of thinking, and a clear approach” for non-profit leadership

Over the years, I have worked for four non-profit organizations and served as CEO of one of them. I was thus especially interested in what William F. Meehan III and Kim Starkey Jonker have to say about a unique challenge that most (if not all) nonprofits face: How to generate sufficient revenue to support programs and services of superior quality that are provided by a labor force whose key people are either underpaid(i.e. staffers) or paid nothing (i.e. governing board and volunteers). Non-profits are by nature and intent purpose-driven: those involved share a common vision.

Meehan and Jonker: In this book, “Our goal is to codify principles, off frameworks, and spotlight nonprofits that we assess to be high perming — better than the other organizations in their field — so that we may all learn from them. We Are, in our roles in the nonprofit sector, empirical in mind-set, analytical in approach., and deeply moved by our heart-and-soul experiences in the social sector.”

The results of their research suggest seven essential components of strategic leadership in the Impact Era:

1. Mission: Articulated in a statement that is focused, addresses unmet needs, leverages distinctive skills, inspires, is times, and “sticky”
2. Strategy: Developed within a game plan that is based on what matters most
3. Impact Evaluation: Analytics by which to determine the nature and extent progress to achieve strategic goals
4. Insight and Courage: Correct/appropriate decisions with regard to heart-and-soul issues and values
5. Talent and Organization: A results-driven, high-impact leadership team that achieves and sustains high performance

These components are the “what” of strategic leadership. Meehan and Jonker provide an abundance of valuable information, insights, and counsel that reveal HOW to achieve the given objectives.

Some of the the material of greatest interest to me is provided in Chapter 8 in which Meehan and Jonker acknowledge the beneficial influence of Bill Drayton and Roy Prostermnan on their thoughts about how to leverage the seven essentiasls to magnify the ipact of strategic leadership.

“First, both founded organizations that played a highly leveraged role in launching global social movements: social entrepreneurship, in Drayton’s case., and rural land reform, in Prosterman’s.

“Second, both focused from the beginning on scaling for impact rather than size. Each devoted considerable attention to refining his organization’s mission, strategy, and impact evaluation.

“Third, each took the time needed to ensure that his organization’s engine of impact was ready and working before expanding the size of that organization.”

I agree with Meehan and Jonker that assessing readiness is the essential first step for anyone who seeks to scale. many organizations “are not ready or able to scale their impact any time soon. To earn the right to scale, they must ensure∂ that their engine of impact has a theory of change that has demonstrated and meaningful evidence of working.”

Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine can do full justice to the scope and depth of coverage that William F. Meehan III and Kim Starkey Jonker provide in this volume. Who will derive the greatest benefit from the material? In my opinion, three groups: senior-level executives in all organizations in the nonprofit sector, senior-level executives in organizations in the for-profit sector who are responsible for increasing the impact of initiatives in the social sector; and decision-makers in capital sources that include VCs and banks as well as corporate and private foundations. For anyone in these groups, Engine of Impact is a must read.

Posted in

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.