UK: "Managing the Non-Profit Organization" by Peter Drucker (Butterworth Heinemann, £20.00). (1 of 2)

UK: "Managing the Non-Profit Organization" by Peter Drucker (Butterworth Heinemann, £20.00). (1 of 2) - Review by Robert Heller.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Review by Robert Heller.

The protean nature of Peter Drucker never ceases to astonish. His interest in non-profit organisations is well known. But the notion of this great figure of the century raising funds by calling door to door, or being deeply involved in the affairs of his church, must surprise those who believe that you cannot serve both God and Mammon.

But then, that has always been the bedrock of Drucker's unique strength - the belief that true achievement rests on genuine humanism. To be clever is not enough: to be clever and humane opens the door to endless opportunity. Profit, in this reading, misleads. It measures the value which the user attributes to a commercial product and service. But "value" cannot be defined only in financial terms.

If your nearest and most dear is saved from a disease by the non-profit National Health Service, you do not value that service less than the same salvation achieved through large payments to private suppliers of medical care. The means of finance is irrelevant to the value of the service.

Drucker's refusal to forget the non-profit world is in itself a remarkable service. Reading this book is a powerful reminder of how deeply society depends on organisations that exist to serve rather than to profit. In the author's view, the non-profit institution has been America's resounding success over the past 50 years - in many ways its "growth industry". He cites health care, the unions, pastoral churches, hospitals and many others.

The British list would be different, while making the same point: the welfare state is the foundation of any developed society, because society is untenable without collective work undertaken to achieve common goods; work which is related, moreover, not to reward but to results.

But are the management needs of non-profit providers, inside or outside the state, different in kind? Read this book and you begin to doubt it. Drucker advises that the "mission" comes first; that "leadership" is the key to generating both the vision and the crucial move from mission to performance through effective strategies for marketing, innovation and finance; that you cannot "perform" without standards of definition; that relationships with people achieve success; and that the manager develops success by developing him or herself.

Every page of both interviews and text contains pithy wisdom. "If you have consensus on an important matter, do not make the decision. Adjourn it so that everybody has a little time to think. Important decisions are risky. They should be controversial." Or: "Look at the people in your own organisation ... What do they do really well and how do they do it? In other words, look for success." Or: "One starts with the mission, and that is exceedingly important. What do you want to be remembered for as an organisation - but also as an individual ... The minute we lose sight of the mission, we begin to stray, we waste resources. From the mission, one goes to very concrete goals."

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