May 01, 2016

Applying Successful Nonprofit Management Principles in the Courts

By Vice Chief Judge Samuel A. Thumma and Meredith Marshburn

Every organization uses management principles perceived to be effective that typically have a similar goal: to motivate individuals in furthering the purpose of the organization. The management principles used differ widely based on an almost infinite number of context-dependent variables. Is the organization large or small? Does it have one location or many? Does it provide a product, a service, or a combination of both? How are employees compensated? What are the culture and “feel” of the organization from the perspective of management, customers, and employees?

The effectiveness of the management principles used differs widely based on these same variables. For example, management principles that work well in an edgy, high-end restaurant, where wait staff are driven by the possibility of large tips from wealthy customers, may not work at all at a neighborhood diner where long-time employees are committed to serving comfort food at a fair price to regulars they’ve known for years.

Accounting for these variables in identifying and implementing successful management principles also is resource-dependent. The resources available to manage the wants and needs of a Fortune 500 company’s employees are very different from those available to the local nonprofit’s volunteers. And the resources available for the nonprofit’s volunteers, in turn, differ from those available to a state court system’s employees.

Clearly, identifying management principles is not a “one size fits all” concept. Given these differences, there is a great deal to be said for attempting to adapt to court systems management principles identified as “best practices” in for-profit organizations. But can courts learn from management principles identified as “best practices” in nonprofit organizations?

This article begins with a brief overview of some differences and similarities in for-profit organizations, nonprofit organizations, and government (more specifically, the courts). The article identifies how the courts have, in some significant respects, more similarities with nonprofit organizations than they do with for-profits. The article then discusses seven selected nonprofit management principles identified by the late management expert Peter F. Drucker in Managing the Nonprofit Organization (2006 paperback), and how these principles might apply to the courts. The article concludes that using nonprofit management principles in the courts merits serious consideration.

Premium Content For:
  • Lawyers Conference
  • National Conference of Specialized Court Judges
  • National Conference of State Trial Judges
  • ABA Licensing Partners
  • National Conference of the Administrative Law Judiciary
  • National Conference of Federal Trial Judges
  • Appellate Judges Conference
Join - Now