Last week I attended the launch of the book, Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector by William F. Meehan III and Kim Starkey Jonker, with a Foreword by Jim Collins.  The authors identify seven leadership best practices of high performance based on their extensive experience in the nonprofit and philanthropy sector. Together these best practices form an "engine of impact" that nonprofits need to build, maintain, and hone over time to scale with results.

As a member of the Leap Ambassadors Community, a group of nonprofit leaders, funders, and practitioners who believe that performance matters, the book, the ideas and insights shared by the authors resonated.   I wasn't surprised to receive a copy from Mario Morino, the visionary behind the Leap Ambassadors Community and author of an influential book on the topic, Leap of Reason with a note mentioning that one of the authors, Meehan, is a long-time esteemed colleague and mentor.

The book is a great read, packed with insights as well as high level frameworks and practical applications. This book should be on the holiday reading list for any nonprofit leaders and their boards (and their donors) who want their organizations to thrive and magnify impact.  These principles once applied can help organizations sustain their work because they will be able to attract and leverage funding.

As the authors describe, the practice of strategic leadership is not just doing good work but also doing the work in a highly intentional and effective ways.  To explain their approach, they use the metaphor of an engine as illustrated above to break down the components of strategic leadership.  It starts with the organization's mission or the air.  Next comes the compressor or strategy that takes the air of the mission and applies pressure to it.  In other words, creating a strategic plan.  Impact evaluation is the thrust indicators, providing measurement and evaluation of the performance.

The turbines, which generate power for the engine, are insight and courage.   The fuel for take off includes funding, talent, organization, and governance.   When the engine works well, it creates thrust or impact.  The chapters in the book unpack each of these components that can help nonprofit leaders steer their engines towards greater impact.

The book devotes a chapter to the topic of scaling - which is about how far that engine can take your nonprofit. According to the authors, scaling can be a powerful way to increase impact but for only for certain nonprofits under certain circumstances. The first step is to understand readiness to scale.  On the book site, the authors provide a diagnostic that helps nonprofits gauge that readiness based on assessing all aspects of the engine model.

I love frameworks, but sometimes they are dry and boring. Not in this book. The authors have created a "Readiness to Scale Matrix" which includes five categories, presented with engaging visual metaphors to make it memorable.  This framework was my favorite insight of the many great ideas and advice in the book.

The five categories are:

  • Scale Jail: Nonprofits that do not have a well-built engine and have little or no fuel.
  • Field of Dreams: They have a proven engine of impact but need to develop a solid plan for funding the necessary fuel to scale.
  • Small is Beautiful:   This are small nonprofits that serve a specific population really well and don't need to scale because they are focused on serving a limited group of specific beneficiaries.   Makes me link of the "Small but Mighty" performance indicators for small nonprofits from Leap Ambassadors.
  • The Waterfall:  This is an organization with a weak engine due to a flawed theory of change and weak impact evaluation, but there is a lot of fuel because the organizational leaders excel at marketing. This is not sustainable.
  • The Promised Land:  The organizations in this category have earned the right to scale because they have a well-built, provide impact model and by finding the fuel that they need to sustain growth.

There are many more great insights in this book for nonprofit leaders, board members, and donors. Engine of Impact should be in your essential reading stack now!