Report: Management Tools Widely Adopted

January 21, 2015       Zach Halper      

Nearly 91 percent of nonprofits report they plan to use a variety of management “tools” during the course of the year, according to a new survey by the Bridgespan Group.

The results of the survey were published in the Boston, Mass.-based organization’s first “Nonprofit Management Tools & Trends Survey,” part of what will be a multi-year effort designed to help nonprofits improve their performance using management tools. Specifically, Bridgespan queried 50,000 nonprofit executives on their use of 25 tools which are:

  • Strategic planning
  • Intended impact and theory of change
  • Program contribution and analysis
  • Scenario and contingency planning
  • Mission and vision statements
  • Leadership and succession planning
  • Talent assessment and development
  • Decision-making processes
  • Organizational effectiveness diagnostics
  • Full cost analysis
  • Constituent engagement
  • Funding models
  • Benchmarking
  • Market mapping and landscape analysis
  • Beneficiary and donor segmentation
  • Big-data analytics
  • Collective impact collaborations
  • Social media programs
  • Partnerships and collaboration
  • Design thinking
  • Performance measurement and improvement
  • Program evaluation
  • Donor relationship management
  • Beneficiary satisfaction measurement
  • Knowledge management systems

According to Chris Lindquist, Bridgespan senior advisor and co-author of the report, the survey will be conducted bi-annually to “stimulate questions, test practice, spark experiments, and ultimately help nonprofit leaders match tools to task and achieve results.”

Respondents indicated that half used 11 or more of the 25 tools in 2014, with the largest organizations ($50 million-plus in revenue) using the most (an average of 14 tools in 2014). Smaller organizations ($1 million or less in revenue) used an average of 9 tools last year.

“The survey provides insights into how well these tools help leaders respond to trends in the sector,” said Bridgespan Senior Advisor Paul Carttar. “We hope this will be valuable information for leaders who aspire to create high-performing, high-impact organizations.”
Use of management tools will only continue to grow from the levels they were at last year. According to the survey, 91 percent of executives who indicated they would use 11 or more tools in 2015, and smaller organizations showed the biggest increase, anticipating they would use 18 of the tools. Organizations between $1 million and $50 million expect to use 19 tools on average, and the largest organizations anticipate using 21. The report cautions that these projections may be more of an aspiration rather than an actual ability to deliver on plans, as studies show tool use tends to go down over time as an organization gains insight on what works.

While Carttar said that many of the findings in the survey were anticipated, some came as a surprise to researchers, especially when it came to gaps between trends and practices. The survey found that nonprofit leaders see a need to increase performance measurement both to strengthen impact and their case for program funding, but few believe funders will increase support for evaluations. In addition, many nonprofits consider talent management a key issue, but 60 percent have failed to take advantage of tools that could help assess and develop employees.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • 86 percent of nonprofits engaged in partnerships and collaboration in 2014 and almost all (96 percent) anticipate doing so in 2015. Collaborations were the only tool cited by a majority of organizations of all sizes as their likely path to growth.
  • Most nonprofits reported satisfaction with the tools they used; no tool received less than a 53 percent “satisfied” or “very satisfied” rating.
  • The amount of satisfaction with a tool was generally dependent on how much effort was put into applying it. Complex, highly analytical tools, such as organizational effectiveness diagnostics and program contribution analysis, yielded dramatically higher satisfaction (more than 40 percentage points) when respondents noted a major effort versus a limited one.

You can view the full report at