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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book Recommendation: Managing a Nonprofit in the 21st Century

I missed October's book selection, so I will do two for November. The second will be in a week or so, and the first I was just talking about in an online discussion among some friends.
Managing a Nonprofit in the 21st Century by Thomas Wolf is, in my opinion, an effective introduction to the world of nonprofits. Since most theatre companies are nonprofits, I think this is an excellent manual for anyone who has started or is thinking about starting a nonprofit, who is serving on a nonprofit board, or who works or volunteers in a nonprofit organization.
This is a very accessible read and offers plenty of specific examples of the right and wrong way to construct a board, manage finances, and utilize volunteers.

It also gets into board ethics without being particularly preachy. Rather than focusing on whether something is right or wrong, Wolf demonstrates how self-interested and unethical actions can negatively impact the effectiveness of the board.
Now, I called this book a manual, not a bible, but it presents a strong, logical framework for a healthy nonprofit. That doesn't mean you can't deviate from the standards that are set forth in this book (standards that seem to be more or less universally agreed upon among those in the know). It just means that if you do, you'd better have a darn good reason for it.
Case in point: I think that Mr. Wolf's examples of mission statements are just a little bit wordy. I believe (and others I've read would agree with me) that a mission statement should be simple enough that any member of the organization, from a board member to a weekend volunteer should be able to remember it and recite it when asked, "So what is this organization?"
This, however, is a pretty minor quibble, and I think that the book is largely a very useful tool. In my opinion, every nonprofit board should read the chapter on boards, at the very least.
Now, don't look for any theatre-specific instruction here. This is a general guidebook, but that doesn't mean that any of it should really be discarded as inapplicable to theatre groups.
In fact, I think that where most theatre companies fail is shortly after the point that they lose sight of their mission and how they are serving the community. I expect that this book would be a major wake-up call to most of the theatre groups in town.
Which is why I'm recommending it.

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