The Future of Organization Development in the Nonprofit Sector

By Wirtenberg, Jeana; Backer, Thomas E. et al. | Organization Development Journal, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

The Future of Organization Development in the Nonprofit Sector


Wirtenberg, Jeana, Backer, Thomas E., Chang, Wendy, Lannan, Tim, Applegate, Beth, Conway, Malcolm, Abrams, Lilian, Slepian, Joan, Organization Development Journal


Abstract

The following summary of results from a survey of nonprofit leaders conducted by the nonprofit and research teams of the Global Committee on the Future of Organization Development is juxtaposed with a case study from The Dwight Stuart Youth Foundation to illustrate how effective Organization Development practices can be applied to and strengthen a nonprofit organization.

Survey results reveal nonprofit leaders see increasing opportunity for OD-related work that is critical to the future of civil society. Since there is considerable room for improvement in the effectiveness of nonprofit organizations in areas that organizational leaders consider very important, and the field of OD possesses competencies in these same areas, this paper is a call for action for OD practitioners to help close the gaps that are identified in this study.

Overview

Civil society in the United States has many aliases third sector, nonprofit, volunteer, to name but a few and includes organizations formed to take "uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values" (London School of Economics, 2004). These nonprofit groups are also referred to as the "independent sector" to emphasize their unique role in society, distinct from business and government (Applegate, 2002). According to The New Nonprofit Almanac (Urban Institute, 2002), almost 6 percent of all organizations in the United States are in the nonprofit sector, and the entire nonprofit sector represented 9.3 percent of all paid employees in the United States in 1998. The entire nonprofit sector had a 6.7 percent share of national income, or a total of $485.5 billion.

In a highly competitive environment, leaders in the civil sector are challenged to simultaneously demonstrate their competency and worth, identify new opportunities for growth and innovation, and remain agile and responsive as they continue to lead nonprofit organizations in:

* Supporting multi-culturalism and globalization;

* Developing productive, performance-based work environments;

* Building organizational capabilities to fulfill future needs;

* Accommodating new and ever-changing forms of regulation;

* Leveraging and integrating new technologies to support the mission of the organization; and

* Meeting increasing expectations for socially responsible and sustainable organizational practices.

Additionally, because the world's problems do not neatly confine themselves to the private, nonprofit, or public sectors, nonprofit leaders are being increasingly asked to collaborate across sectors to improve social, human, and environmental conditions through strategic partnerships - and to transform themselves into sustainable enterprises within this larger ecosystem (Wirtenberg, Abrams & Ott, 2004). To succeed in meeting these daunting and complex world problems, all organizations - whether private, public or nonprofit -"share the challenges and opportunities of integrating values when balancing the underlying importance of people with the achievement of their goals" (Seashore & Seashore, 2006, p. xxiii).

Organization Development practitioners are well positioned to help diverse nonprofit organizations adapt to changing environments, identify priorities, and strengthen leadership in ways that are consistent with underlying values of social justice, individual respect, and collaboration (Seashore & Seashore, 2006). With proven tools like systems theory and action research, Organization Development practitioners can assist nonprofit leaders meet the growing demands on non-profit organizations by providing "an integrated set of theories, ideas, practices and values" (Marshak, 2006, p.14) that facilitate continuous learning and self-empowerment to enable the entire organization to acquire the confidence and competence it will need to manage - on its own - similar and even greater challenges in the future.

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