If the flow of new publications is any indication, interest in the economic and business issues of nonprofit organizations continues to build. Evidence lies not only in the appearance of new books and reports but also in the content of bite sized, quickly digested publications such as the Aspen Institute/Nonprofit Sector Research Fund’s Snapshots series and the Urban Institute’s Emerging Issues in Philanthropy series. In this note, I’d like to recommend to the reader a few new publications in each of these genres.
In the category of briefs, Gene Steuerle’s piece on “Preparing for the Next Emergency: Some Lesson for Charities from September 11th”, in the ongoing Urban Institute series, is of particular interest on the question of building administrative capacity for a more efficient coordinated response to future emergencies, and on the importance of clarity of intent in soliciting and allocating donor gifts. Copies of this report can be obtained from the Urban Institute at www.urban.org/url.cfm?ID=310852. (Gene Steurle is a member of NCNE’s Research Advisory Council.)
Another series of short reports, called the Tropman Reports has been issued by The William Copeland Fund in Pittsburgh, and brought to my attention by Kevin Kearns, former president of the Copeland Fund and also a member of NCNE’s Research Advisory Council. These reports cover a variety of topics on which the fund is sponsoring research. I particularly recommend the following reports, which address issues of direct economic consequence to nonprofit organizations:
Profit Making in Nonprofits: An Assessment of Entrepreneurial Ventures in Nonprofit Organizations, November 2002, summarizes results of a survey and a series of case studies of nonprofit ventures in the Pittsburgh area and identifies helpful planning and management practices to ensure venture success.
Strategic Planning: Positioning Identity, Values and Aspirations, November 2002, reviews the findings of a study by Dr. John Camillus of the University of Pittsburgh on how nonprofits can best design their strategic planning exercises and implement the strategies that emerge from them, based on four intensive cases studies in the Pittsburgh area. Camillus advocates a Pragmatic Planning Process which focuses on how a nonprofit organization should position itself with respect to its core identity, its audience and market territory, the character of its programming and other factors.
How Do Nonprofits Compare With For-Profit Providers? An Application of Customer Value Analysis, November 2002, addresses the question of how nonprofits can compete with for-profit firms in terms of cost and quality of services. It summarizes work carried out by Tripp, Umbach & Associates in the area of affordable housing. The report describes a research tool called Customer Value Analysis, which can help nonprofits understand what clients are looking for, and therefore how they can design their service offerings to be competitive.
The Tropman Reports can be accessed from the Copeland Fund at http://www.copelandfund.org/wjcf/copepriv.nsf/arflist?OpenForm. In the realm of full-sized publications, I recommend Gary M. Grobman’s new book, An Introduction to the Nonprofit Sector: A Practical Approach to the Twenty-First Century. 2004. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: White Hat Communications. This book is intended as a practical primer on the nuts and bolts of nonprofit life, as well as a basic introduction to the history and theory of the sector. Several parts of the book will be of special interest to the NCNE community, including chapters on: Theory which highlights economic concepts, Strategic Planning which summarizes both costs and benefits of strategic planning exercises, Change Management which covers total quality management, business, process re-engineering, bench marking and outcome-based management, Quality Issues which discusses competition and the costs of poor quality, Personnel which includes discussion of benefit packages as well as benefits and costs associated with employing volunteers, Fiscal and Liability Issues which provides an overview of bookkeeping requirements, budgeting, risk management and insurance, and The Internet for Nonprofits which highlights issues associated with e-commerce. In all, there’s quite a lot of useful, easily accessible information in this volume, as well as bibliographic references for the reader seeking more detail. Buy from Amazon.com
Two new collections of scholarly papers on economic aspects of the nonprofit sector are also worth your attention. In the interest of full disclosure, please note that I have contributed chapters to each of these books, though I have no financial interest in their success. (Few academically based books ever make much money in any case!)
The Non-profit Sector in a Changing Economy, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD 2003, ISBN 92-64-19953-5 Buy from Amazon.com and Helmut Anheier and Avner Ben-Ner (eds), The Study of Nonprofit Enterprise: Theory and Approaches, New York: Kluwer Academic/ Plenum Publishers. 2003. ISBN 0-306-47703-3 Buy from Amazon.com
The OECD volume contains a rich collection of papers related to the economics of nonprofit enterprise in different countries around the world. Part 1 of the book reviews basic trends in Europe, the U.S., Australia and Mexico. Part 2 delves specifically into issues of financing while Part 3 discusses the challenges of evaluating the impacts of nonprofit organizations. Several chapters in Part 2 will be of particular interest to the NCNE community. In chapter 5, Caroline Williams of the Nathan Cummings Foundations examines how the U.S. nonprofit sector is accumulating capital, puncturing the myth that ! venture philanthropy and earned income strategies or social enterprise constitute the wave of the future. Rather, Williams observes that the primary mode of capital aggregation has taken the form of various types of financial intermediaries including Community Development Financial Institutions and foundations with the scale and sophistication to access private capital. Chapter 6 by Marguerite Mendell, Benoit Levesque and Ralph Rouzier, focused on Quebec, is also interesting for the wide variety of forms of financing it identifies for organizations in the social economy in that province, including community-based funds, hybrid (quasi-public) funds, workers funds, state funds, and cooperative funds. Similarly, in chapter 7, Benoit Granger identifies various new credit vehicles, including micro-credit tools, that have been developed in Europe ! to address the lack of responsiveness of traditional banks to the fina ncing needs of social sector organizations.
The Anheier and Ben-Ner book is specifically concerned with nonprofit economic issues at a theoretical/conceptual level. It derives from a symposium in 1995 at Yale which brought together many of the pioneers in nonprofit economy theory to revisit the state of that theory. Nonetheless, the book is reasonably accessible to the lay reader, and worth an investment of time if only to enjoy the ruminations of a distinguished cast of scholars, including Henry Hansmann, Lester Salamon and NCNE Research Advisory Council member Avner Ben-Ner, (and by multiple referencing - Burton Weisbrod) who were responsible for initiating key streams of thinking about the economic nature of nonprofit organizations. As the summative essays by NCNE Research Advisory Network member Richard Steinberg and Paul DiMaggio indicate, the field of nonprofit economic theory has evolved in interesting ways, and has come a long way since the 1970's, in terms of its sophistication and its utility in informing public policy and management practice. Anyone wishing to take a crash course on nonprofit economy theory would do well to read this book.