Best selling author will coach nonprofits in Delaware

By Kathy Canavan

Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” will work with six Delaware nonprofits developing plans to transform their organziations.
Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” will work with six Delaware nonprofits developing plans to transform their organziations.

Jim Collins, the author of “Good to Great” and other business bestsellers, does only occasional speaking appearances now, but Thère du Pont and Chris Grundner persuaded him to come to Wilmington on June 15.

Collins will be the keynote speaker at the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement’s (DANA) annual conference titled “Making Delaware Great.” One of Collins’ key ideas is that great organizations recruit and retain talented, self-motivated, and self-disciplined people.

“It’s really, as you can imagine, hard for an organization to engage him because he’s really, really expensive, and his dance card is very full,” Grundner said.

He didn’t disclose what Collins was paid, but Grundner said Collins agreed to speak in Delaware because of the groundwork DANA had laid.

The group emailed a couple thousand copies of Collins’ 44-page monograph about nonprofit management to nonprofit staff and business people around the state and asked them to form book clubs to discuss Collins’ ideas.

“We told Jim we’re going to try to make sure people understand this stuff before you come so they all have some grounding in your work and you’re not trying to get them up to speed,” Grundner said.

Six nonprofits were chosen to attend a series of workshops based on Collins’ principles — the Community Education Building, Connecting Generations, the Hagley Museum and Library, the Milford Housing Development Corporation, the Latin American Community Center, and the Reading Assist Institute.

In the workshops, they will come up with goals, objectives, and a strategic plan to accomplish them, all based on Collins’ insights. Halfway through the workshop series, the nonprofit staffers will meet with Collins in a special session from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on the day of the conference.

He’ll already have questions in hand that they submitted about their organizations.

“For those six organizations, it’s sort of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a chance halfway through strategic planning to interact with Jim,” Grundner said. “If you think about going back into that work after that interaction with Jim, you’ve got a different lens to see it through, which is his lens.”

“We hope it will be a catalyst for change,” Grundner said. “The event doesn’t really end on June 15. The reality is it’s just the beginning. We’ve been pushing Jim Collins’ research out to the nonprofit sector since I got here.”

After making copies of Collins’ essay on nonprofits available for free, Grundner’s hope is that the “Good to Great” philosophy will fan out through the state. The nut of it is: “Greatness is a matter of conscious choice and discipline.”

Collins, in an email interview, called it a great privilege to come to Delaware for the event DANA has planned. “To have key leaders from both the business and social sectors coming together is an inspired idea,” he said. “By working together they can create even greater impact than working only within one sector. I hope our work can make a contribution to the superb work people are already doing across Delaware. I am really looking forward to it.”

He said the most important question for nonprofits is the same as it is for profit-making firms: “Do you have the right people in key seats?”

“If you have the right people, they will do whatever it takes to produce the best results because they are self-motivated to do so,” Collins said. The right people, he said, give credit to others when things go well and accept responsibility when things go awry.

He said the need for selfless, goal-oriented leadership in social sectors is unbounded: “There will always be big, unsolved problems that can only be addressed with exceptional leaders and their teams,” Collins said. “The best leaders, teams, and people will always find a way to make themselves useful, even if the problems change.”

In addition to having the right people in the right seats, Collins said the most important single thing a group can do to effect change is to “confront the brutal facts” — reassess what you’re doing so you do the things your organization does best and stop doing the things that don’t fit with your mission.

“If we all sort of absorb what he’s saying and apply it, I think the ripple effects are going to go far beyond the nonprofit sector,” Grundner said. “For him to come and have feet on the ground here in Delaware is a major accomplishment for the state of Delaware, and I think, because of our size, it can mean much more than it would mean if he did the same things in Texas or California. The ripple effects will travel a lot farther in a state our size.”

“This isn’t sort of a one-and-done thing,” Grundner said. “It’s a theme that is going to carry on in a much greater way.”

The conference begins with networking and breakfast at 8 a.m. on June 15 at the Chase Center on the Riverfront. Jim Collins will speak at 9:30 a.m. Register online at

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