Five Good Ideas : Practical Strategies for Non-profit Success
Edited by Alan Broadbent and Ratna Omidvar
Coach House Books, 250 pp., $23.95

This book presents a collection of  “what some of the best thinkers and practitioners consider the top ideas” in non-profit management. Its well-designed, easy to read and full of way more than five good ideas—there are actually 195 of them.

Before there was a book…

Before Five Good Ideas became a book, the Maytree Foundation launched a lunch-and-learn program under that same title , in 2003 in Toronto. It was planned as a way to offer highly valuable and low commitment learning opportunities to non-profit organizations.

“We began to imagine how great it would be to obtain the benefits of a conference without actually having to attend. …  How about five good ideas over lunch?” described co-editor and program co-founder Broadbent in his introduction.

The Five Good Ideas lunch-and-learn series began in 2003 and takes place at the University of Toronto’s Elmsley Hall. A bag lunch is served to audiences of typically 80-100 non-profit managers—while they enjoy a Five Good Ideas presentation.

In 2009, I myself had the honour of presenting at a lunch-and-learn event, which you will read a bit more about below.

A book of good ideas was born

In 2011, after many good ideas had been shared over eight years of luncheons, a chosen selection of the presentations were then organized into a book, of which this review is about.

This comprehensive book offers—best practices, bits of wisdom, tips, tools—for the major realms non-profit managers might face, including:

  • leadership and vision;
  • organizational effectiveness;
  • human resources;
  • resource development;
  • communications;
  • advocacy and policy;
  • governance.

 Zeroing in on communications

To honour the interests of visitors to this nonprofit communications and marketing blog, this review is focused primarily on the communications chapter (49 of 250 pages), which offers a broad range of good ideas for non-profit communicators. The contributing authors also provided an additional list of five good resources at the end of each of their sections.

Here is a sampling of the good ideas presented which stood out to me as noteworthy (in order as they appear):

Branding – by Ian Chamandy and Ken Aber

#4 People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it
“…  Your story has to evoke an emotional response … [and] According to Simon Sinek, professor at Columbia University and author of Start With Why, to generate an emotional response, you have to know why you do what you do,” from p. 150.

Strategic communications– by Jennifer Lynn

#2 – Choose tactics to suit your audience

“The more you know about a target audience’s needs, hopes, fears, habits and attitudes, the better prepared and more effective you will be in engaging them …,” from p. 154.

Maximized marketing for nonprofits – by Donnie Claudino

#4 – Empower your ambassadors to reach where/who you can’t

“This is the golden age of the brand ambassador, where the voice of one speaking to a few is more powerful than a press release sent impersonally to many. Some ambassadors accomplish amazing feats, raising millions of dollars and drawing countless eyes and ears to the causes they champion,” from p. 160.

Social marketing – by Mark Sarner

#1 – Break out of the mission-versus-money trap

“Mission is the reason you exist, but money can become your defining reality. Many organizations find themselves desperate for money and sometimes compromise their mission to receive funds. However, money will follow your mission if your organization has a good social marketing plan,” from p. 163.

Talking to the media – by Carol Goar

#5 – Remember that reporters ask questions

“I offer this as a precaution: remember that reporters ask probing questions, they delve into areas that you might not want to talk about, and they don’t follow anybody’s script,” from p. 172.

Web 2.0 – by Jason Mogus

#1 – Stories that matter

“Speak passionately about the things that matter to you and give voice to those that you serve. Tell your stories better, and if you can’t due to lack of capacity or funding, partner with people who can. … Audiences expect a different kind of storytelling these days, and if you don’t compel them, quickly, about the big ideas behind your service, cause or campaign, you miss your opportunity to connect”, from p. 178.

Building conversations on the web – by Marco Campana and Christopher Wulff

#5 – Don’t just innovate – participate

“You will always have an online home — your website, blog, etc. And, yes, you want people to come there. But what matters more is that you create or become part of a space that your clients consider a trusted network …” from p. 188.

Successful networking – by Lisa Mattam

#3 – Develop a map

“People increasingly rely on social media tools like Facebook or LinkedIn to keep track of their colleagues and professional acquaintances, but these don’t give you a robust sense of your network. What I suggest you do is map out your network, in order to really understand it,” from p. 192.

The non-profit manager can also apply this networking/communications tip, to help them visualize the full scope of their marketing channels and networks, both online and offline.

Here are a few more…

With so many good ideas shared, I must also bring forward a few more from other chapters:

  • Leadership & vision | innovation – by Suzanne Gibson

    #5 Think to be effective, not to be right

“… The best leaders and innovators work hard to protect seedling ideas because one day they will sprout up into something marvelous. … Embracing uncertainty requires courage, adaptability and a willingness to be wrong,” from p. 41

  • Organizational effectiveness | leading an inclusive organization by Kay Blair

#4 Make inclusiveness part of your organization’sDNA

 “An organization that has inclusiveness built into its DNA is one in which everyone on staff realizes that decisions are not restricted to the senior leadership, and allows for everyone at all levels to engage creatively in its development and growth,” from p. 47.

  • Human resources | effective HR management – by Lynne Toupin

#4 Develop and sustain a culture of ongoing learning

People who work in the voluntary sector consistently tell us they want to learn with their peers and have opportunities to expand their knowledge of best practices. Every workplace, however small, must reflect on the learning opportunities it can provide its employees,” from p. 81.

 Worth the money

 Although, as a contributor to this book, I am biased, I sincerely recommend this guide of good ideas. It’s a valuable read for the busy non-profit communications or marketing, etc. manager who’s working hard and wearing many hats, all while still making a difference.

“The success of everyone in the non-profit world … is dependent on the sharing of information, ideas, and experiences. … By collecting the expertise of people who have forged this trail before us, we can set about scaling new cliffs and bettering the world,” from forward by Craig Kielburger, (founder of Free The Children and Me to We).

About the Maytree Foundation –  Maytree foundation focuses on the reduction of poverty in Canada, Maytree is a private foundation that promotes equity and prosperity through leadership building.

 Five Good Ideas is a lunch-and-learn program where industry or issue experts discuss powerful yet practical ideas on key management issues facing non-profit organizations. The sessions are most useful for management staff and board members at small and mid-sized non-profits. Each expert presents five practical ideas and explores with the audience how these ideas can be translated into action. During each session, participants organize into small groups and continue the discussion to generate the best and most relevant of all ideas.

Donnie R. Mills

Donnie R. Mills

Donnie R. Mills has worked with and at a broad range of non-profit organizations in the U.S. and Canada, as both a director and consultant of marketing and communications. He is a contributing author to "Five Good Ideas: Practical Strategies for Non-profit Success". Donnie has additionally worked in the tech sector and in advertising as an art director. He holds a bachelor's in graphic design and a master's in marketing. He is also an active photography hobbyist and founder of a photography group, in London, Ontario were he resides.
Donnie R. Mills
Donnie R. Mills

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