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Bridgestar’s “Leadership Matters” Offers Points to Help Nonprofit Organizations Transition to Stronger Management in Tough Times
[December 18, 2008]

Bridgestar’s “Leadership Matters” Offers Points to Help Nonprofit Organizations Transition to Stronger Management in Tough Times

Without sound management practices, even the most successful nonprofit organizations will lose their effectiveness over time. The December issue of “Leadership Matters,” published by the Bridgespan Group’s Bridgestar initiative, which is dedicated to attracting, connecting, and supporting leadership for the sector, provides insights into how nonprofit organizations can establish solid management practices to complement their strong leadership initiatives.

The lead article, “Strongly Led, Under-managed: How can visionary nonprofits make the critical transition to stronger management” is excerpted from a longer article by Bridgespan Partner Daniel Stid and Bridgespan Managing Partner and Co-founder Jeff Bradach. The article is based on Bridgespan’s discussions with senior staff members at 30 nonprofit organizations as well as insights from Bridgespan’s consulting work.

“Passion is the driving force behind visionary leadership at many nonprofit organizations,” said David Simms, Bridgestar managing partner. “While management capabilities are also critical to an organization’s success, they are often overlooked or underdeveloped. We believe by providing insights into best practices, we can help organizations strengthen their management capabilities without diminishing their passion.”

According to “Strongly Led, Under-managed,” symptoms of inadequate attention to management include staff members who are confused about their roles and responsibilities, and finances that are out of control. The article addresses the differences and inherent tension between leadership and management roles. For example, Jumpstart, a national network focused on mobilizing college students to tutor young children in Head Start programs, was losing many talented people because of management issues. “Based on my for-profit experience, I thought that strong management was what people would seek and want to invest in,” said Rob Waldron about his early experiences as CEO of Jumpstart. He soon learned that others did not see it this way, but rather were more focused on the passion of the mission and its ability to attract money and talent.

Levers to Build Strong Management Practices
Bridgespan found there are three key levers to ensure that organizations appreciate, build, and sustain strong management practices. Each of the levers depends on the other two for success:

• Get to strategic clarity. Answer, in concrete terms, the questions that are core to an organization’s mission: “What impact are we prepared to be held accountable for?” and “What do we need to do—and not do—in order to achieve this impact?”

Strategic clarity does not necessarily mean developing a time-consuming strategic plan. In describing a planning exercise the organization was conducting, Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach for America (TFA) told Bridgespan, “I am not going to read another overly detailed plan that tries to lay out what every part of the organization is going to do for several years. We are going to forget all this planning, and we are going to come up with a few priorities and very clear goals.”
• Anchor strategic clarity in metrics. After achieving strategic clarity, keep staff focused by zeroing in on a few key metrics. Waldron identified three key metrics at Jumpstart: the number of children served, the gains per child, and the cost per tutor hour. These metrics enabled the organization to flag unproductive variations across their sites, drive increased growth and effectiveness, and lower unit costs. Focusing on these metrics enabled the organization’s staff to understand the need for change—and the desirability of spreading best demonstrated practices throughout the network. This example also illustrates that effective performance measures that are clearly aligned with an organization’s mission are very effective in motivating staff.
• Build and align the key leadership team. Transitioning an organization to stronger management often involves supplementing the experience and capabilities of the senior management team. Typically, organizations name a second-in-command who has managerial experience as well as expertise in systems and processes. At the same time, organizations may need to consider letting go employees who, despite their dedication, are not able to contribute at the level that they should.

The article also addresses best practices for managing the change process, including: communicating to the staff why change is necessary and how it will strengthen the organization’s ability to maintain impact and effectiveness; soliciting their feedback; and getting them involved. Having a well-managed organization for the long-term involves being aware when the organization might need to adjust or renew its efforts to strengthen management, as well as being prepared to take action when needed.

The current issue of “Leadership Matters” is available at:

Bridgestar’s Fifth Anniversary
Launched in Dec. 2003, Bridgestar provides a free nonprofit management job board, content, and tools designed to help organizations build strong leadership teams and individuals pursue career paths as nonprofit leaders. The Bridgestar initiative currently has more than 46,000 members. Its job board, which lists management and leadership positions with nonprofit organizations around the country, across a range of service areas including the environment, human services, elder services, human rights, and youth services, has listed more than 4,149 job postings since its launch.

Each month, Bridgestar’s newsletter, “Leadership Matters,” focuses on a nonprofit leadership career- or recruiting-related theme. Available to Bridgestar members (or, for a complimentary subscription, please email [email protected]), “Leadership Matters” is part of a robust portfolio of offerings.

Members also can connect to other leaders to learn from others and to share their expertise through online discussions, role based networking groups and Listserves.

About Bridgestar
Bridgestar (, an initiative of the Bridgespan Group, provides a free nonprofit management job board, content, and tools designed to help organizations build strong leadership teams and individuals pursue career paths as nonprofit leaders. Bridgestar’s goal is to attract, connect, and support senior talent, leading to greater organizational effectiveness and social impact.

About The Bridgespan Group
Founded in 2000 and incubated at Bain & Company, the Bridgespan Group ( is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that helps nonprofit and philanthropic leaders make strategic decisions and build organizations that inspire and accelerate social change. At the heart of our mission is the belief that a strong and effective nonprofit sector can be a powerful force for change as well as a source of human inspiration.
We believe that results are driven by three levers: solid strategy; access to appropriately structured capital; and talent that begins with leaders and senior managers. We exist to apply the best relevant thinking and tools to strengthen these levers and help organizations deliver on their missions.

Bridgespan pursues its mission through three sets of activities:
• Strategy consulting, executive search, and philanthropy advising, to help nonprofit organizations and philanthropists develop and implement strategies with the potential to achieve significant results.
• Sharing insights, strategies and tools developed by us and by others through research and client engagements.
• Developing or supporting strategic initiatives that aim to improve performance across the nonprofit sector.

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