Make Things Better – Thoughts on 40 Years in the Nonprofit Sector

By Michael Clark, past President and Executive Director, NPCC

Throughout my 40+ years in this sector—the last 10 at the helm of NPCC—I have learned how all kinds of nonprofits work to fulfill their missions and how they can improve that work. For all nonprofits, I offer five pieces of advice:

  1. Constantly clarify and be true to your core values.  By law, every nonprofit exists to pursue a mission – to make something in the world better. The US Tax Code gives Americans the widest range of possible missions of any country in the world. Choosing what matters most and how to make it better means making strategic choices. Start with your values and those of your board.
  1. Focus your work on the actual change(s) you want to make. Take responsibility for making real change that you can see, and hold yourself and your organization or program accountable for the change. Track your progress over time, and aim to constantly improve your track record.
  1. Love the work you do and the people you do it with. You need to get a kick out of your work and you should treasure the people who work for you and with you. Be comfortable showing it!
  1. Keep your eye out for opportunities without becoming an opportunist. Honestly, nonprofit work like anything else involves its share of maneuvering, strategizing, competing, even cow-towing. It will sharpen your competitiveness and sometimes stroke your ego. But, when these become your top things, when efficiency becomes your only metric, watch out. Time to recalibrate.
  1. Get comfortable asking for help. “Work-life balance” is hard to pull off in our resource-starved, high-needs nonprofit community, but it’s really critical to learn how to do it.

I truly encourage nonprofits to apply for the New York Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Awards, an NPCC program that helps nonprofit managers improve their management so that their organizations can make a real difference. Win or lose, applicants walk away with invaluable, practical tools necessary to improve. You can learn more at the upcoming Best Practices Workshop and Awards Presentation.  Register here:

Since its founding, NPCC has been tirelessly promoting, advocating for, and helping to foster success in nonprofits. I know that my successor, Sharon Stapel, will continue this important work and take NPCC— and the nonprofits it supports—to even greater heights as we all work to make things better.


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