Don Knapp, speaker and consultant on
Building a Quality Culture in Nonprofit Corporations


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A corporation's culture is the sum of its integrated values,beliefs and traditions. A quality culture is the foundation of a quality performance. The following myths and realities, which will appearedited in NONPROFIT WORLD magazine in 2010, reflect the major principles of a quality culture.

Myth: Quality management policies and practices in industry do not apply to nonprofit organizations.
Reality: To be fully effective, nonprofits must manage their “production” as a complex and dynamic social system inwhich elements are not viewed separately but as interacting with each other and their environment, using cross-functional teams and customerinput to pursue continuous learning and improvement. Many hospitals, for example, are now using systems thinking to reduce medical errors.

Myth: Nonprofits should maintain operating strategies and tactics they’ve alwaysused.
Reality: Organizational strategies and tactics should change with changing conditions,which could occur if, for example, a need has been met, a headquarters is demolished, an executive director leaves or a donor provides a majorgift for a specific project related to the organization’s mission.

Myth: Boardsshould select and retain members they know and are comfortable with.
Reality: Boards shouldhave rotating members with diverse backgrounds and insights and staggered terms. An effective chair will elicit member participation,discourage members from dominating discussion and encourage questions and candid dialogue.

Myth: Projects once organized and implemented should not be changed until they have been completed.
Reality: Projects underway should be observed and modified by those involved, at least incrementally, as conditionswarrant.

Myth: Cross-functional teams stifle the contributions, recognition andadvancement of individuals.
Reality: Teams should include thinkers from inside and outside ofthe corporation. A team leader-facilitator should tap the individual insights of members, engage them in dialogue and guide them toward asolution. Anonymous peer ratings help evaluate the contributions and collaborative skills of members.

Myth: Innovation can only be produced by a creative person
Reality:Experts believe any employee or volunteer with average intelligence can be innovative, given facilitating conditions. Supervisors set goals forsubordinates but they should let subordinates collect information and propose their own ideas as to how the goals can be achieved.

Myth: Customers don’t know enough about nonprofits to evaluate them.
Reality: Regular feedback from customers, visitors, employees, donors, volunteers and other stakeholders keepsnonprofits on course. Many progressive corporations use customers and vendors to help them analyze iterations of models of future products.

Myth: Marketing means if you promote it visitors will come.
Reality: Marketing means more than promotion. Promotion may attract visitors once but if nonprofits don’t managethe four P’s of marketing—product, place, price and promotion—they may not return. In the nonprofit world, the “product” may be a program,exhibit, concert or service. “Place” is more than a facility. It is the institution’s delivery system. Marketing means everything the consumeror donor, for example, experiences en route to a transaction.

Myth: Donors areonly useful as financial contributors.
Reality: Donors have talents, insights and stakeholderinterest that can be useful on boards, in advisory roles and as survey respondents They are usually more interested in substance thanrecognition. Their ongoing engagement with nonprofits builds positive relationships.

Myth:Volunteers cannot be treated as employees are treated.
Reality: Though they work fewer hours thanemployees and receive no pay, volunteers should be held to the same high standards of performance. It will enhance their motivation andeffectiveness.

Myth: Sustainability is too nebulous or too costly or both.
Reality: For a nonprofit corporation, sustainability is a top priority. It means balancingprogramatic, environmental and human needs for present and future generations.


Formerly Executive Director of TheHoneywell Foundation, Inc. in Indiana for 25 years, Don Knapp has co-founded five nonprofits and served on the board of each. He lives in Indianapolis and is a consultant to nonprofit organizations. His philosophy is summarized in his presentation:
From John Wooden to Edwards Deming--the thinkers who taught me to build a quality culture.

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Don Knapp