Faith-Based Management

Cover of the book "Faith-Based Management," by Peter BrinckerhoffFaith-Based Management: Leading Organizations that are Based on More than Just Mission. By Peter C. Brinckerhoff. John Wiley & Sons Inc. 1999, 250pp.

Peter Brinckerhoff, author of Mission-Based Management and guru of nonprofit management for almost two decades, repeats early and often in Faith-Based Management that faith-based organizations – both houses of worship and faith-based service organizations – are unique. And of course they are. From the nitty-gritty (e.g., some organizations have their clergy or director assigned from the denomination rather than chosen by the board), to a set of specific moral codes, to the overarching, if hard to pin down, qualitative difference that “faith” makes, there are certainly some important features distinguishing faith-based organizations from secular ones.

But the real message of Brinckerhoff’s book is actually the opposite: Despite all their differences, faith-based organizations need to practice good management just like every other organization. And in fact, good management, from clear board roles to financial stewardship to strategic planning and marketing, is both compatible and called for in the faith-based context. The principles that Brinckerhoff lays out, and his strategies for following them, are by and large no different from what any secular nonprofit management book would tell you. But here, those principles are presented in a casing of religious language (carefully interfaith) and with an extra level of “yes, this really does apply to you” argument.

Although the book is easy to read and use, its narrow frame of reference is a great drawback. Despite Brinckerhoff’s hundreds of interviews and careful attempts to represent many denominations and faiths, nearly all his examples and representations of religious values involve socially conservative morals, charitable impulses, or evangelical conversion goals. The word “justice” – such a strong biblical theme – is never mentioned. God is still Him. Likewise, faith-based organizing or development groups, as opposed to places of worship or social service agencies, do not register on the radar.

Nonetheless, if you are able to overlook them, these oversights don’t negate the value of the book’s actual message and model. For its audience, Faith-Based Management may be able to deliver what dozens of management books have not. It’s the perfect gift for that board member who says, “Let’s just leave it to God,” whenever you suggest some strategic planning or fiscal oversight, or for the executive director to whom the idea of marketing seems altogether too secular and messy for a faith-based enterprise. Use it if it applies to you, and, in Brinckerhoff’s words, “may God be well pleased with your stewardship.”

Miriam Axel-Lute is CEO/editor-in-chief of Shelterforce. She lives in Albany, New York, and is a proud small-city aficionado.


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