Forces for Good: The Six Practices for High-Impact Nonprofits
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The research approach employed by the authors of Forces for Good was inspired by renowned business management books such as Good to Great and Built to Last. The authors’ first challenge was to define and identify a select group of “great” nonprofits–those that were among the highest-impact groups in their respective fields. Then they studied the 12 organizations for several years, identifying patterns that explain their effectiveness.

In order to identify high-impact nonprofits, the authors first considered concrete outputs: Did the organization achieve substantial and sustained results at the national or international level? The second part of their definition was more qualitative: Did the organization have an impact on an entire system or field? They used the following baseline criteria to narrow their research.

Baseline CriteriaExcluded
Type of Organization501(c)(3) nonprofit
Founded in the U.S.
Churches, membership organizations
Grant-making foundations
Organizations founded abroad
Definition of ImpactHas achieved substantial, sustained results
Has created larger systems change
Impact at both levels not substantiated or sustained
ScaleNational or international impactOnly local impact
Time FrameFounded 1965-1994Founded before 1965 or after 1994
Final SampleDeliberately selected a diverse sample in terms of issue area, geographic location, size, and business modelSome organizations that met all other criteria were not included
They then used the following four-phase process to select and study organizations that met these criteria.
Phase 1
Nonprofit CEO Peer Survey
The authors conducted a national peer survey of 2,790 executive directors of nonprofits, asking them to nominate up to five nonprofits in their field which they believed had the most significant impact in the last 30 years, and why. The survey sample was diverse and representative of the sector as a whole.
Phase 2
Field Expert Interviews
The authors then vetted the results of the peer survey with more than 60 experts in nine different fields (e.g. arts, environment, youth development, etc.), who helped analyze the impact of the nominees, and narrow the list. Working with their advisors, the authors then selected a final sample of 12 organizations to study in depth.
Phase 3
Case Studies
They then conducted extensive case study research on the 12 organizations over several years. They compiled all public information, visited each organization, conducted interviews with the founders and other leaders; and analyzed internal information including budget data, compensation rates, turnover rates, and organizational charts
Phase 4
Analysis, Synthesis, and Writing
Finally, the authors looked for patterns across the research sample which might explain how these nonprofits achieved significant impact. Ultimately, the most significant patterns are presented as the “six practices” in Forces for Good
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