The long rainy Fourth of July weekend off from DNA Creative Communications gave me time to catch up on my non-profit reading. You know, the tower of books on my bedside table that I have deemed of the ultimate worth, the books I want to savor. However, by the time I am setting my alarm clock each evening, I rarely have the motivation to savor more than the cool side of my pillow. The last four days—not just rainy at my house but actually treacherous—gave me time to do the laundry and to savor some prized reads.

In all honesty, I did need a kick in the pants from an email on the fourth, an auto-message from the library telling me one of my books would be due on the eighth, a book I had barely cracked.

“Would you like me to renew it?” asked my knowing husband. I replied yes but we couldn’t because someone else had requested the book and it needed to be returned. Funny how I will act for someone else before I will act for my own good (a common characteristic in the non-profit world). So, I set about to finish Forces for Good, Crutchfield and Grant, 2008.

The subtitle of Forces for Good is “The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits.” I expected a digestible, to-the-point read. I wanted to know those six practices and if they were ranked in order of importance, that would be very helpful, thank you. This book doesn’t let you off that easy…fortunately. Crutchfield and Grant challenge you with studies and data tables and grey areas that make you wrestle reports with reality, the reality of your own non-profit experiences. Forces for Good is no self-help manual for non-profits. This is a lesson in best practices but the book is clear about the dangers of comparison. Most of the case studies did not employ all six key practices. Some even thrived in opposition. There’s no magic formula, as is continuously reiterated throughout the book:

“The processes these organizations use to decide on their organizational priorities vary dramatically—some are more structured, some more organic. But they all ask themselves similar questions in deciding what to keep and what to let go. They are able to self-reflect and ask, What are we good at? Where can we have the most impact? Is anyone else already doing this?”

True to any book that teaches me something, I’ve heard much of this before. Forces for Good put the pieces together for me or hit me over the head with it…maybe a little gentleness with a little slap. I had several of those a ha! moments, not for discovering unique thought but for the presentation of what I already know with the insight of how to think more adaptively:

“The challenge for every nonprofit is to find the sweet spot between exploring new opportunities and shoring up the best existing programs. This means balancing discipline and freedom, and honing the ability not only to innovate but also to evaluate, learn, and modify plans based on new data.”

I didn’t know what awaited me when I went to the library to check out Forces for Good. I kept running into references from the book when researching material for our non-profit workshop series, “Shine the Light on Your Non-profit” and decided it was a book I should read. There are 22 introductory pages to the book before you get to the meat. That’s enough for me to have not read far. The first chapter is a nice synopsis of the entire book, another likely stopping place. But, as with any good holiday reading (on the beach or not), there was a mystery to the subject that I had to see resolved. I kept reading to figure out the whodunnit and the clues began to fall into place.

I’m in the position of helping multiple non-profits at the same time. This exercise of flexing my knowledge and adaptability is just the reinforcement I needed to support how deeply I commit to a mission I believe in.

Are you passionate about your mission?  Add Forces for Good to your reading list and let me know what you learned.

My rainy holiday reading was even patriotic in color.

My rainy holiday reading was even patriotic in color.