Achieving Better Outcomes: 2 Must-do Habits of Non-profits


What separates well-run Non-profits from those that often run aground? Passion? Available funds? Habits? In this post, Toni Jackson sets forth two habits that she feels the best run non-profit organizations need to know and master.

It’s habits that can often make or break non-profits. Want to achieve sustainability? Embracing good habits, and eliminating bad ones, is a very good place to start.


Toni Jackson

Just before Thanksgiving I shared my thoughts on the 4 Things That Thriving Non-profits Do Really Well. There are, I feel, two other essential habits which should also be regularly practiced by Non-profit Leaders.

The four core habits, explored in the aforementioned post:

  • They are proactive, not just reactive
  • They maintain a steadfast Mission focus
  • They get good people to work for them
  • They properly train their staff

To take your non-profit to the next level, however, there are 2 more habits I feel you should consider. Practicing them too will position non-profit leaders like you to succeed.

Use the best practices to get better outcomes

Know what the best practices are and strive to incorporate them into your organization’s operation. Non-profits who practice this habit can be assured they are doing things in the most effective and efficient way. Ineffectual non-profits which have inefficiencies in key areas of their operation rarely thrive. Those who adopt best practices rarely regret doing so – and are rewarded for doing so.

Establish and maintain good relationships

While having a good relationship with your staff is at the root of the 3rd and 4th habits, that is not where an Executive Director’s ability to relate should stop. They must I firmly believe be able to establish relationships with their donors too. In doing so, a non-profit will be able to make sure those who donate are still interested in the organization’s Mission – and keep supporting it.

Beyond your relationships with donors and their staff, it’s very important for non-profit leaders to establish relationships with other non-profits too. The core competencies of non-profits that do similar work will generally be quite different. So, working together, regularly or in certain situations, can yield great results. To avoid such collaborations, is unwise. To engage in them starts with determining what the distinct core competencies of each organization is.  In the absence of relationships with other non-profits, many strategic alliances will not be possible.


  • Best practices allow Non-profits to be more effective and efficient.
  • Interested and engaged donors will follow their heart – and keep supporting your organization.
  • Establish strategic relationships with other Non-profits, resisting the urge to go it alone.  Cultivate collaborations that will help you fulfill your Mission.



All relationships aren’t created equal.

News flash: To make the second habit that Toni Jackson sets forth above meaningful, the relationship needs to be fruitful and not fail. In a post entitled “The Four Reasons Relationships Fail”, Dr. Travis Bradberry offers 4 stumbling blocks to having relationships that flourish. In his piece he states:

Dr. John Gottman and his colleagues at the University of Washington discovered four clear indicators of relationship failure, dubbed “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”   The Four Horsemen are so profound that their presence predicts the demise of a relationship with 93% accuracy.

Clearly adopting a Game Plan that gives an Executive Director only a 7 % likelihood of succeeding isn’t wise. Based on this university research, Bradbury’s TalentSmart chose to put the University of Washington’s research to the test. In fact they “tested more than a million people and compared the quality of their working relationships to their job performance. We’ve found that 90% of top performers are skilled at managing relationships, and they avoid The Four Horsemen like the plague”.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Relationships

They represent, Bradbury states, “counterproductive acts we can easily fall victim to when our emotions get the better of us . . . remember that conflict itself is not a problem. Conflict is actually a normal and (ideally) productive part of two people with different needs and interests working together. The amount of conflict between two people has no bearing on the success of the relationship. It’s how conflict is handled that determines a relationship’s success.”

Criticism “becomes, well, criticism when it isn’t constructive.” Again, conflict itself isn’t what causes a relationship to fail. Neither is constructive criticism. The second horseman: Contempt. “Any open sign of disrespect toward another” is a sign that contempt has reared it’s ugly head.  Even when no signs of contempt or criticism are observed, one should beware of Defensiveness Bradbury writes, which “only serves to accelerate the anxiety and tension experienced by both parties, and this makes it difficult to focus on the larger issues at hand that need to be resolved.” Lastly, the fourth horseman of the apocalypse: Stonewalling. As Bradbury describes it this “is what happens when one person shuts the discussion down by refusing to respond”.   His LinkedIn post fully describes all four reasons why relationships fail.  After fully describe each of these potential points of failure, the piece offers strategies to deal with each one once acknowledged.

Non-profits run just on a Founder’s passion, however deep, will quickly run into trouble. Toni Jackson in this Series’ post encourages Executive Directors and Non-profit Leaders to relate well and be best practice followers.  These habits, along with the four Jackson raised in a prior post, should be in every Non-profit Leader’s Toolbox.  

Your Outcomes Well

Better outcomes through Best Practices (Non-profit leaders)

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