Is Your Nonprofit a “Slim & Smart” High Performance Nonprofit?

Is Your Nonprofit a “Slim & Smart” High Performance Nonprofit? 

By Eugene Fram

The “slim and smart” nonprofit approach does not involve specific steps but instead calls for management to develop an overall transitional framework and climate for the organization.[i] It does, however, require planning with sufficient lead-time.   Such a plan provides a series of actions a nonprofit can take to cope with anticipated personnel and financial problems.

Getting Your Organization Ready

This requires getting an organization ready for a downsizing period based on client requirements and stakeholder expectations. Also critical are willing staffs that understand the leadership’s vision and can meet the challenges it poses.  If the organization is not ready to accept necessary changes, the board and top management must jointly develop an educational program to create the awareness for the need.

The Role of the Chief Executive

  • Assist the board in developing the vision statement.  The chief executive is, after all, the most knowledgeable person in the organization about trends in the areas served by the nonprofit.  He or she should help guide the discussions of the board in developing the vision statement.
  • Develop a small but representative subgroup of employees to win organizational support for the new vision.The members of the group should become the key communicators and staff liaisons for the project.
  • Be Persistent.  In some instances, job termination will be the only answer to those who simply refuse to become a part of the new reality.
  • Secure the proper balance between employee empowerment and participation and the need for managerial authority.  Staff must understand how the consultative process works and be prepared to accept management decisions.
  • Keep the focus on clients & stakeholders. It is the chief executive’s job to make sure that client or stakeholder requirements are not only the focus of he process, but also the focus of program outcomes.
  • Develop rigorous benchmark standards.  To obtain high performance results, the chief executive and board must know what performance levels are being achieved by similar organizations and how these might be used as appropriate benchmarks.[ii]
  • Monitor Progress. Deadlines and timetables need to be established so that concrete results can be achieved.  Without proper monitoring, the nonprofit’s “process addicts” can drive change discussions in circles for long time periods.
  • Build a continuous improvement culture.  Develop an organizational climate in which staff values and strives for continuous improvement in operating methods and with customer services.[iii]


[i] Eugene H. Fram & Robert Pearse,  “The High Performance Nonprofit: A Management Guide for Boards & Executives,“ Families International, Milwaukee, Wisc. 1992.  Robert Pearse and Herbert Jarvis, ”Corporate Restructuring in a Casino Society,” New Management, 3, Summer 1988, pp. 55-60

[ii] Jerry Talley & Eugene Fram,  “Using Imperfect Metrics Well; Tracking Progress & Driving Change, ”Leader to Leader Journal, Winter 2010, pp. 52-58.  

[iii] David T. Kearns, “Welcoming Remarks,” Proceedings from the Xerox Quality Forum II, Stamford, CT. Xerox Corporation, July 31- August 2, 1990.

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