Management in the Not for Profit Organization

Dedicated to Exploring the Philosophies and Techniques of Management in the Non-Profit Sector


The Fact that you can doesn’t necessarily mean that you should;or,

“Why don’t they ever let us do something the same way long enough for us to get good at it?”


The above statement was heard from a front line social worker the other day.  The quotation is included here because it captures, better than the several efficiency systems I’ve read, the effect of frequent change upon line staff in a paper and procedure dense setting.


Unfortunately, most not-for-profits seem to be paper and procedure dense.  Even more unfortunate is the fact that we managers can often be dense as well.  To wit:


One of the side-effects of efforts to constantly improve quality is the mirage procedure, followed closely by the magic form.


The mirage procedure is a new, improved method that will better give the organization what it seeks.  Then the time arises when you need it.  You reach for it.  Just as you attempt to use it, you realize that you can’t grasp it.  You stand there empty handed, realizing that you’ve chased a mirage.


It was a good procedure.  It really was.  Everyone had a handle on it when it was rolled out.  Unfortunately, many, many other procedures have been rolled out before and since, each with their handles in different places.  So when the time came to grab one to use, the handle could not be found.


Then there is the magic form.  It is amazing.  It starts with items a,b,c,d,e,&f.  After further review, it is determined that item c is not necessary, but items g and h should be included.  Soon thereafter, items i, j, & k are deemed essential.  (Please note that one of the properties of the magic form is that it may change many times and many ways, but it will never get smaller.)


The impetus for the magic form came from a wonderful new philosophy, which gave rise to a brilliant new procedure, and led to the idea being put in its basic terms on paper:  the magic form.  Sadly, all the front line staff were told when it finally reached them was “Here’s a new form you have to use.”.  They never learned of the magic in the form.  They only saw mystery in it.


There are, of course, many reasons for changing procedures and paperwork.  For instance:

· Changes in the state of the art

· New or changed law or regulation

· Altered focuses of accrediting bodies, or new accreditation.

· New management with new ideas

· Old management went to a new seminar.

· New management with old ideas, but introduces them with a different look in order to put their own stamp on things.

· Innovation based in practice and observation in the field.

· Improved coordination among sections/departments reducing fragmentation and overlap.

· Etc.


Obviously, some of the reasons are better than others.  But there is a common theme:  The positive effect of the “improvement” is usually overestimated and the negative impact of the process of change is usually underestimated.


In view of this, we must take greater care in deciding how and when we will introduce change.  Though some might think it radical, this writer has been a proponent of the following for some time:

Changes should only be introduced periodically throughout the year.  That is, there should be “change free” periods.  One suggestion is that form and procedure changes only be introduced twice a year, with each period lasting one month.  This would permit logical and coordinated introduction and implementation of the changes.  That is, each change’s impact upon staff and upon the other changes could be assessed prior to the introduction, and proper training could more easily be provided.

Only changes which are required by law, regulation, or accreditation; or, those which provide significant immediate increases in health/safety should be enacted sooner.