Book Review | Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Non-profit sector

publication date: Apr 18, 2018
author/source: Sharon Broughton

Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Non-profit sector is a timely, relevant call to action for cause-focused leaders, offering a blueprint to attract greater financial support – and it’s also a great read. Co-authors William F. Meehan III and Kim Starkey Jonker (both of Stanford University Graduate School of Business and acclaimed authors of the Stanford Social Innovation Review series “Fundamentals, not Fads”) outline how strategic leadership is not just doing good work, but also doing that work in a highly intentional and effective way. In Engine of Impact, they have laid out an accessible, compelling framework of seven essential components for ensuring non-profits create their intended impact.

Tackling the fundamentals of strategy and focus, discipline and accountability, I found the authors’ approach of distilling research and theory into lessons accompanied by practical case studies and prescriptions for action to be inspiring and motivating. And while most of their examples are US-based, they also include powerful stories of international non-profits whose innovative work makes sense to us here in Canada. (I admit to wanting to make notes in the margins of several great Canadian leaders and organizations that exemplify key points.)

The idea of ‘Strategic leadership’ is made tangible by unpacking its component parts: 1. strategic thinking – building and tuning the engine (fact-based problem-solving, with a focus on mission, strategy, impact evaluation, insight & courage) and 2. strategic management – fuelling the engine (focus on execution, including funding, talent, organizational structure, and board governance).

Fundraisers will cheer with the ‘Money Matters’ chapter. The only way the mission can be fulfilled is with ‘funding as the essential fuel’. The authors advocate an authentic and straightforward approach to making the ask, embracing the importance of covering the full costs of a charity’s work, building on their colleagues’ research from “The Non-Profit Starvation Cycle” (SSIR, 2009).

By connecting the charity’s impact story with an opportunity for donors to make a significant difference, meaningful support can be inspired. For those seeking affirmation of the essential leadership role of Boards in philanthropy, the message is clear: a successful development culture starts with the Board. All Board members should give at a personal stretch level and ensure the organization invests in robust development functions, including donor stewardship.

Philanthropists, donors, board members and staff can facilitate ‘true transformation in the Impact Era’ by embracing strategic leadership and move from having good intentions to ensuring great impact. The conclusion urges non-profit Boards wanting to make an even greater difference for their cause to ask themselves three key questions. The time for this thinking and acting is now.

While I encourage you to read, re-read, share and discuss this book with your Board and staff – don’t stop there. Jonker and Meehan have developed an impressive set of tools and resources to support capacity-building at This is a rich, multi-layered offering that has immediate sector-wide application.

Sharon Broughton is an Instructor and Content Development Team member for the U of T School of Continuing Studies’ Certificate program “Non-Profit Leadership for Impact” and CEO of Prince’s Charities Canada. Contact Sharon at

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