Nonprofit Network Blog

3 Disciplines of the Best Nonprofits

Thursday, September 14, 2017 8:06 AM | Anonymous

Tom Williams

Capacity Builder

What comes to your mind when you hear the word "discipline?" Is it a child is being punished as a result of misbehaving? Does it bring to mind the restriction of choices from being part of a highly organized group like a military battalion or a high school marching band? I encourage you to not let the negative definition restrict you from giving the results oriented version proper consideration. Over the next few hundred words, I want to put the word discipline in context of nonprofit success. I want to make the case that it is a positive practice that will transform your organization.

The well respected business and nonprofit management author Jim Collins tells us discipline is the difference being a "good" nonprofit and being a "great" nonprofit. In his short, 40-page monograph called “Good to Great In the Social Sector,” he shares being a great nonprofit is the result of being disciplined in three specific ways.

3 Disciplines of the Best Nonprofits:

1) Disciplined people are those that are absolutely on fire for the organization’s mission and deliberately surround themselves with like-dedicated people that will act on that ambition to see the mission be reached. 

2)  Disciplined thought is that consistent effort to address whatever issue is between you and mission obtainment and to operate in the specific space where your passion, resources and your niche in the community intersect.

3) Disciplined actions are those that operate in the framework of responsibilities and the relentless building of incremental progress to obtain, increase and benefit from organizational momentum.

Collins makes the point that great nonprofits include disciplined people, disciplined thought and disciplined action. In this context he is using the definition of discipline being a prescribed pattern of behavior.Collins shares that the nonprofit sector would greatly benefit from more disciplined planning, more disciplined people, more disciplined governance, and more disciplined allocation of resources.

In my personal experience, I have observed well-disciplined nonprofits revisit thorny issues less frequently (time and energy saver), they have better relationships with their supporters (through the discipline of consistent contact), and they retain their board, staff, and volunteer human resources for longer periods of time (roles and responsibilities are clearer and understood by all). Organizations that adhere to a disciplined approach to their work aren’t rigid and emotionless, but rather they are consistent and relational because they know and practice those efforts that lead to mission obtainment.

Take heart, discipline can be learned. Once it becomes a habit, you have arrived.

Practical ways to become more disciplined:

  • Leadership makes the decision and declares the intent to be held accountable
  • Increased documentation of all decisions reached
  • Awareness and dedication to adherence of best organizational practices
  • Clarification and documentation of roles and responsibilities of board, committees, and each staff person
  • Time spent projecting (and documenting) the need for resources
  • Increased awareness and adherence to meeting start and stop times
  • Organizational commitment to meeting all promised deadlines.
  • Time devoted to prioritizing tasks so as to address those most important for organizational successes

Initially, becoming more disciplined takes additional time. However, upon becoming disciplined, your efficiencies will provide you more available time than you currently enjoy.

Want to discuss this further with Tom?

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