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What Best Practices Exist in the Nonprofit Sector to Improve Operational Effectiveness and Achieve Greater Impact?

In the face of increased accountability pressures, nonprofits are searching for ways to demonstrate their effectiveness (Liket and Maas, 2015). Stakeholders should be asking how do we identify effective practices throughout the organization and how do we improve organizational effectiveness to achieve greater impact? Nonprofit organizations are increasingly under pressure from funders, clients, and others to “prove” that they are achieving their mission effectively and efficiently (Renz and Murray, 2010). Over the past decade, efforts have been increasingly made to encourage the adoption of effective practice methodologies in the nonprofit sector (National Resource Center, 2010). What is considered effective should advance the organizations mission and goals to achieve greater impact.

Meaningful tools to evaluate effectiveness are largely absent (Liket and Maas, 2015). This means an increased demand for more and better evaluation (Renz and Murray, 2010) is needed. Currently, nonprofit organizations are measuring effectiveness in a variety of ways including benchmarking, organizational effectiveness evaluations, key performance indicators, and outcome based evaluation. Nonprofit organizations should identify evaluation methods to assess their programs and organization effectiveness on an ongoing basis. The goal is to identify best practices and opportunities and subsequently to adapt to improve (Bridgespan, n.d.).

It is important to understand how the identification and implementation of effective practices can impact an organizations success (National Resource Center, 2010). Effective practices can provide nonprofit organizations with significant, long-term benefits including, but not limited: improved quality and quantity of services offered to clients, increased cost savings resulting from increased productivity and efficiency, improved use of resources by avoiding “reinventing the wheel”, identification and replacement of poor practices with proven strategies and programs, increased funding from public and private funders interested in supporting programs and strategies based on a proven track record of success, and increased performance from management and staff (National Resource Center, 2010). In conclusion, effective practices allow for organizations to better serve their clients and achieve greater impact.

Exponent Philanthropy identified five qualities and characters’ that effective nonprofits have including clear mission and purpose, ability to perform key functions, strong practices, procedures, and policies, good people, and the ability to mobilize others (2014). These characteristics of effective nonprofits allow for organization to clearly communicate and engage stakeholders in the impact they are making.

The National Resource Center suggests there are four steps that nonprofits can take as it begins the process of identifying and incorporating effective practices into their operations (National Resource Center, 2010).

First, leaders must identify the specific needs of the organizations as well as the needs of the clients the organizations aim to serve. This step involves not only considering immediate needs, but also anticipating future needs (National Resource Center, 2010).

Second, leaders must identify existing practices within the organizations and conduct thorough research into those practices that have been identified and validated by other social service organizations and academics (National Resource Center, 2010). After you have identified areas of need for your clients and community, you will begin to benchmark potential practices to address these needs areas (National Resource Center, 2010).

Third, it is important to validate the processes to determine if the practices are best, promising, or innovative. As a nonprofit practitioner dedicated to improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the services you provide, it is your responsibility to identify, document, and validate these practices (National Resource Center, 2010).  There are three key steps involved in the process of identifying and validating a new best practice (1) unearthing effective practices, (2) describing and documenting effective practices, and (3) validating and classifying practices through assessment and review (National Resource Center, 2010).

Fourth, implement and promote effective practices. Nonprofit organizations must take a proactive stance in promoting their practice findings and educating their staff on how these practices will impact operations (National Resource Center, 2010).

Nonprofits organizations equip themselves with the knowledge and information needed to identify, validate, and promote effective practices that will help improve their organization and the quality of services they provide within their communities (National Resource Center, 2010). Nonprofit organizations must identify effective practices to stay competitive and achieve greater impact.


Bridgespan Group. (n.d.). Benchmarking. Retrieved on September 20,2017 from

Daly, P.S. (2014, December). 10 Best Practices for Effective Program Management. The Journal of ERW and Mine Action. 18(3). Retrieved on September 26, 2017 from

Herman, R.D., and Renz, D.O. (n.d.). Nonprofit Organizational Effectiveness: Practical Implications of Research on Elusive Concept. The Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership. Retrieved September 26, 2017 from

Herman, R.D., and Renz, O.D. (1999, June). Theses on Nonprofit Organizational Effectiveness. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. Vol. 28(2), p107-126. Retrieved on October 29, 2017 from

Jackson, Y. (2017). Interview on Organizational Effectiveness at Devereux Applied Behavioral Health. Conducted October 27, 2017.

National Resource Center. (2010). Strengthening Nonprofits: Capacity Builder’s Resource Library. Identifying and Promoting Effective Practices. Retrieved August 26, 2017 from

Exponent Philanthropy. (2014). What Makes an Effective Nonprofit. Retrieved on September 20, 2017 from

Liket, K.C., and Maas, K. (2015). Nonprofit Organizational Effectiveness: Analysis of Best Practices. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. Vol. 44(2), p 268-296. DOI: 10.1177/0899764013510064. Retrieved October 4, 2017.

Porter, M. (n.d.). Michael Porter and Operational Effectiveness. International Accreditation Council for Business Education. Retrieved August 26, 2017 from, D.O., and Murray, V. (2010).

The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Chapter 16: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Nonprofit Organizations. Jossey-Bass. Retrieved August 26, 2017 from

MacKenzie LeBeau graduated from Syracuse University in 2011 earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health while minoring in Nutrition and Food Studies. MacKenzie works for St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance as the Food Drive Specialist combining her passion to alleviate hunger with improving program effectiveness. MacKenzie will graduate in December 2017 with a Masters of Nonprofit Leadership and Management from Arizona State University.


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