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So you’re good but could you be great…?

The Management Centre

You may be Good but are you Great?

Good to Great (G2G) is one of a series of influential books by US management guru Jim Collins which describes how commercial companies grow from being merely good to great. It has a great and profound line at the start which argues (merely) “good is the enemy of great.” That’s actually quite profound. Read it again… then read on…

Collins defines great as “capable of making a significant difference and achieving sustainability.” The book is based on a study of long-term results in US for-profit companies. But at =mc we’ve been applying the G2G learning to the not for profit sector in Europe, Asia and the US where it’s having a great impact. And in the next 12 months I’m running series of classes on the topic including a master class at the International Fundraising Congress in Holland on how to apply G2G to the world of fundraising and resource mobilisation. (To find out about the congress try

The class is sold out. So this is not an advert. But I thought it would be useful to explain the ideas I’ll be pursuing in the class to see if they have any resonance for you.

In the class and this post I’m be addressing essentially a single question: “how can a good fundraising NGO become great?” Part of my argument is that if we are to genuinely address the challenges we continue to face- in poverty, natural disasters, inequality, human rights, and environmental degradation-we have to achieve greatness. And part of greatness involves raising much more money to address our organization’s missions in a sustainable long-term way.

As part of the class I’ll be unveiling the results of a research project comparing organizations and fundraising teams that have made the ‘greatness’ leap to those who did not. The data, I’ll argue, supports Collin’s thesis that “ greatness is not primarily a function of circumstance, but largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.” So the master class looks at how to make those conscious choices through three disciplines outlined below.

There are three practical discipline-based stages in the transition from good to great. I’ve outlined these below following Collin’s approach with the questions we’ll be addressing in the class and you might like to consider now as you read and reflect.


Level 5 Leadership

G2G organisations have Level 5 leaders. These leaders are ambitious for the cause, the organisation, the work—not themselves. They have the fierce resolve to do whatever it takes to make good on that ambition, while displaying a blend of personal humility and professional will. What does Level 5 humility mean for the ‘profession’ of fundraisers? Do you think you’re a level 5 leader? Do your colleagues think you are?

First Who … Then What

G2G organisations recruit a team to create greatness. Fundraising leaders need to make sure they have the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the key seats before they work out where to drive the bus. They think first about “who” and then “what.” In a fundraising market where everyone complains about skill shortages how do you get the right people on the bus? And where does this mean for the obsession with strategy rather than talent management?


Confront the Brutal Facts

G2G organisations engage with reality but have a visionary focus. They retain unwavering faith that they can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties. At the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of their current reality. What can we really learn from visionary appeals like NSPCC’s Full Stop where mistakes were constantly made but then confronted and corrected?

The Hedgehog Concept

G2G organisations identify their core competencies and strive to be best in that. Greatness comes about by consistently applying a simple, coherent concept— a “Hedgehog Concept.” This model involves three intersecting circles: what you can be the best at, what you’re passionate about, and what drives your resource engine. Fundraisers spend a lot of time pursuing the ‘new’ especially if it involves social media rather than focussing on core…what’s your core? What are you really good at?


Culture of Discipline

G2G organisations work in a systematic way. Disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and take disciplined action is the cornerstone of a greatness culture. People operate with freedom in a framework of responsibilities. In a culture of discipline, people do not have “jobs” they have responsibilities. How do we create that disciplined accountability approach? What implications does this have for the NGO/charity culture of flexibility and loose management?

The Flywheel

G2G organisations build momentum over time. In building greatness, there is no single defining action, no grand programme, no one killer innovation, no solitary clever social media app. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant heavy flywheel in one direction, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond. How do you gain and maintain that momentum in your fundraising? How long can you wait for results- is the focus always on the short-term?

In the final part of the class we’ll be looking at how to build greatness to last though two other key concepts. One involves Clock Building, Not Time Telling. If we are to become really great at what we do we need to build culture and business models not dynasties. We need to build an organizations that adapt through multiple generations of fundraisers, great ideas, or specific programmes. And finally we’ll look at the importance of creating Innovation within Values. G2G organisations are clear on fundamental beliefs and innovate within these. Everything else is up for challenge.

The diagram below illustrates the model. Let me know if you want to know more.

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