Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

The Promise of Organizational Development in Nonprofit Human Services Organizations

Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

The Promise of Organizational Development in Nonprofit Human Services Organizations

Article excerpt


Through their missions of service and advocacy, nonprofit human services organizations, function on an ideology that is centralized on creating change for the individual, community, region, nation, or world. Nonprofit agencies find themselves in increasingly competitive environments; functioning with limited, often decreasing, resources; and increasing demands for services; all while being held to ever growing standards of accountability. For many nonprofits, providing services and securing resources are their top two priorities. Organizational development efforts that build the organization's capacity, improve internal systems management, and develop staff are often deferred or limited. This article explores a sampling of issues relevant to providing organizational development in nonprofit human services organizations, to serve as a primer for those considering providing organizational development services in this setting.

Organizational development (OD) practices and nonprofit human services practices are founded on planned change that is based on strong humanitarian and democratic philosophies in which individuals are regarded with an inherent value and dignity (Fishman, 1984; Resnick & Menefee, 1993). The practitioners in both fields utilize a client- practitioner relationship wherein the "practitioner is primarily responsible to the client, the client- practitioner relationship is of primary importance as a vehicle for change, and commitment to privacy and confidentiality must be kept" (Resnick & Menefee, 1993, p.434-435). The fields also draw from a large base of shared theoretical foundations including psychological, psychoanalytical, sociology, learning, systems, and group dynamics theories among others (Resnick & Menefee, 1993).

These shared ideologies between the OD and human services profession present an opportunity for organizational development professionals to partner with nonprofit human services organizations to build the effectiveness and efficiency of these organizations (Fishman, 1984; Resnick & Menefee, 1993). Fishman (1984) argued that "since one important goals of the human services network is to provide efficient and effective intervention, intervention that facilitates constructive behavioral and emotional change, it would seem that the network would be an enthusiastic consumer of applied behavioral programs" (p.5). Such a partnership could help meet a critical need for human services, their clients, and communities, as nonprofit human services organizations are increasingly under pressure to produce measurable outcomes with rapidly diminishing resources in increasingly competitive environments (Frumkin & Andre-Clark, 2000). However, relatively few nonprofit human services organizations utilize the expertise of OD professionals and those who do often fail to fully engage in the planned intervention processes (Fishman, 1984, Hyde, 2003, 2004; Norman & Keys, 1992; Resnick & Menefee, 1993; Stevenson, Florin, Mills, & Andrade, 2002).


Over the last thirty years scholars have written about the potential impact organizational development practices could have in the field of human services. Resnick and Manefee (1993) maintained that "OD is a set of technologies that, if competently applied, can transform an organization 's culture from one focused on maintenance and survival to one concerned with growth and success" (p.441). However, the success of OD interventions in human services organizations relies on the OD practitioner having adequate knowledge about this genre of organizations and the organization itself being ready and prepared for this type of change. In a small national study, White (1998) found that 33% of the practitioners they surveyed who had experience working with nonprofits, self-reported inadequacies in their professional preparation for this work. Additionally, 35% of their clients reported being ill prepared for the OD intervention (p. …

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