Book Review | The Intrepid Nonprofit

publication date: Jul 11, 2019
author/source: Reviewed by Maryann Kerr

In The Intrepid Nonprofit, author Tim Plumptre takes us on a journey that encompasses both a 30,000-foot view of the non-profit sector and a granular one. Bringing more than three decades of experience to the task, he has worked as a CEO, a director, board chair, consultant, community volunteer, funder, led two non-profit organizations, and is the founder of the non-profit Institute on Governance, the latter of which has clearly influenced his writing.

His choice of book title speaks to the stance he believes non-profits and their leaders need to take as they face uncertain times—a quick search of synonyms for intrepid includes fearless, unafraid, undaunted, bold, daring, and audacious.

By providing a history of, and context for, the current state of affairs in Canada’s charitable sector, Plumptre paints a convincing and compelling portrait of a sector on the precipice of significant disruption. Based on interviews with more than 50 individuals representing a cross-section of the sector, an extensive literature review, and drawing from his deep expertise within the Canadian charitable sector, he offers a critical analysis of where we’ve been, where we are, where we might be headed and tips for managing the future. Speaking eloquently about the role of Board members, he writes about the origin of many of our current governance issues, and provides specific suggestions, and resources, to improve the effectiveness of non-profit boards.

The Intrepid Nonprofit can be read cover to cover or used as a reference book by skipping to chapters that speak to specific topics, such as governance, finance, fundraising, people, technology, human resources, leadership, strategy, sector legislation, survival strategies, mergers and more. Whether you are new to the sector, at mid-career or a seasoned professional, you will learn something from The Intrepid Nonprofit. Speaking to how he hopes the book will be used, Plumptre writes,

“I hope it will provide perspective. Many leaders are under so much pressure that they have little time to lift their heads to examine the larger context within which their organization is functioning. This book examines important features of the contemporary non-profit landscape and the challenges it poses. It suggests various strategies that may be helpful in confronting those challenges, including ideas about governance that may be useful both at the level of the individual organizations and at the societal level.” His overview of the sector, the historical moments that have impacted our direction, his description of the many forces at play in shaping it, coupled with the number of practical tips and suggestions throughout the book, make this a necessary tool for every charity.

Wondering how to apply risk management protocols to your organization? Check.

Considering a merger and not sure where to begin? Check.

Struggling with how best to collaborate or network effectively with other like-minded organizations? Check.

Trying to figure out how best to support or evaluate your board? Check.

Trying to determine if Imagine Canada’s Trustmark accreditation program is right for you? Check.

The systems analysis provided throughout the book is intelligent and thoughtful. The fact that the author neither simplifies nor complicates the reality of the sector’s challenges and opportunities is refreshing.

In The Intrepid Nonprofit, Plumptre does not foresee a doomsday for the charitable sector. In tackling large topics like adaptability and digital technology, as well as the sector’s over emphasis on measurement and accountability, he makes a strong case for the continued and elevated role the civil sector is likely to play in the future. He is optimistic, but points out that business as usual won’t cut it,

“I don’t think non-profits are all about to disappear, but I have no doubt that many will have a very difficult time in the years ahead. Some will, indeed, flounder, no matter how important the work they are doing.”

If every current and potential board member from coast to coast to coast could be given a copy of The Intrepid Nonprofit, there is no doubt that our sector would benefit from the wisdom and perspective gained. As the author points out, he “seeks to shine a light ahead into a future that often appears murky, illuminating issues that many organizations will need to address.”

The Intrepid Nonprofit by Tim Plumptre, Friesen Press, 307 pp., June 2019, $37.00

Maryann Kerr has served local, provincial and national organizations in executive leadership. She is currently the Chief Happiness Officer/CEO and principal consultant with the Medalist Group, a philanthropic firm she founded in 2016.

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