The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

Managing nonprofits in an “age of hope”


-- Prof. James Post, an authority on corporate governance, teaches “Strategies for Nonprofits” at the Boston University School of Management. The views expressed are his own. --

I am inclined to think the Bernard Madoff affair has blown the lid off the financial madness of this decade.  We have been living in an age of fraud, and now must rethink the way we do business.  As John Kennedy once appealed to the nation’s better angels to call us into public service, Barack Obama’s inaugural address should instruct us on our obligation to serve the greater good.  It’s not just a moral concept; it’s good business.  I offer a corollary as well: Without good business, how far will a moral concept take you?

The management cliché about nonprofits goes something like this: What they lack in business savvy or operating budgets they make up for in passion and vision.  This notion was especially apt in an age of decreased governmental support.  And there’s a private-industry parallel declaring that firms may have a wealth of professionally trained managers but run in the red when it comes to inspiration.  Few organizations have it all, so private and public industry must continue to collaborate to serve the community.

If Obama can keep the lives of real Americans in his sights, despite the overwhelming urge to obsess over Wall Street and Baghdad, he can have a profound effect on reversing the destruction wrought by the age of fraud.  He can strengthen the bond between public industry and the private sector in ways that benefit all of the stakeholders.  In many ways, the time is ripe for nonprofits to set a new example, one that marries sound management and ethics, and proves they can stay together for the long haul.