The Spiral of Nonprofit Excellence

Light, P.C.
Nonprofit Quarterly, Winter,

This article is adapted from a new book by Paul Light entitled Sustaining Nonprofit Performance: The Case for Capacity Building and the Evidence to Support It, published in 2004 by the Brookings Institution Press.

Imagine a nonprofit's life as a journey up and down a development spiral. All organizations would start with a simple idea for some new program or service and then move up the spiral toward greater and greater impact, progressing through five landings, or stops, along the climb: (1) the organic phase of life, in which they struggle to create a presence in their environment; (2) the enterprising phase, in which they seek to expand their size and scope; (3) the intentional phase, in which they become focused more tightly on what they do best; (4) the robust phase, in which they strengthen their organizational infrastructure to hedge against the unexpected; and (5) the reflective phase, in which they address longer-term issues of succession and legacy.


Wagner Faculty