Management in the Not for Profit Organization

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



The search for improvement never ceases.  Do more with less.  Do it better faster.  And, by all means, do it right NOW!


As managers we constantly seek improvement.  It is our responsibility to promote achievement by our organization, our work teams, and each individual staff person around us.  It is not enough to maintain the systems that we inherit.  As a well known college football coach has been known to say: “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.”


Not-for-Profits generally do not make widgets, so there are some limits to the ways in which they can adapt industrial production models to their needs.  However, the basic principles of quality management and improvement still apply.  They can find ways to improve the pricing and quality of the materials they purchase from their vendors.  They can improve their advertising and interviewing techniques to find better staff.  They can train their personnel to constantly improve efficiency and product quality.  The list goes on and on, and that is just the raw material side of the equation.  In short, there are many quality assessment and improvement techniques that apply to not-for-profits as well as to for-profit companies.


In fact, in the opinion of this writer, one particular expert in the for-profit arena espoused ideas which have a special meaning for not-for-profits.  This individual, W. Edwards Deming, was considered a world leader in the fields of Quality Control and Business Management.


Dr. Deming focused on the effect of organizational processes and systems.  This fits nicely with the Systems Theory which provides the framework for much social work practice.  He also took time to closely examine the problem of conflicting mandates.  He has been known to link these to quotas, and oppose those as well.


“He cites the example of the airline reservations clerk, who is under a directive to answer twenty-five calls an hour, while being courteous and not rushing callers.” (p.78, The Deming Management Method, by Mary Walton)  What if there is a computer or communication problem?  And, what is she likely to do if she achieves the twenty-five call quota early?  Would she work with vigor to achieve a higher level of productivity?  Or is it more likely that she will be satisfied with what has been established as satisfactory by the company?


Perhaps most importantly, as Dr. Deming would point out:  “What is her job?  To take twenty-five calls or to satisfy the customer?  She cannot do both.”  (p.79, The Deming Management Method, by Mary Walton)  This illustrates another key area of similarity between Dr. Deming’s ideas and those of the human relations professions.  That is, Dr. Deming’s description of the reservations clerk’s situation is a perfect example of a double-bind.


The idea of clear messages is at the heart of the approaches of many fields commonly seen in the non-profit setting.  The concept ranges from the skills taught to enhance interpersonal relationships (assertiveness, TA, etc.), to the principles of goal planning, (Clear, achievable, measurable, & observable objectives in IEP’s, TPR’s, ISP’s, etc.).


This is a serious issue in the management of not-for-profits.  It is not the blatant conflicting directives that most concern this writer.  It is the gradual erosion of clarity created by the continual addition of “just one more thing” to the responsibilities of workers.  You must always be on time, but could you squeeze one more appointment into your schedule?  You must make your clients feel appreciated and understood, but you need to utilize your brief contact with them this week to attend to purely administrative functions.  You need to take care of yourself or you won’t be any good to anyone.  But things are too busy right now for you to utilize your vacation time.  Contradictions.  Incongruities.  Double-binds.


The impact of these things is not immediately catastrophic.  If it were, people would react and defend against them.  Instead, onset is insidious.  This will lead to accelerated burnout in individuals, and entropy in organizations.


Maybe the idea of schizophrenegenic parents is dead.  Unfortunately, the schizophrenegenic organization goes on.