The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization

by Peter Drucker et al

This book offers a strategic planning framework for nonprofit organizations. It can help board members set the direction by asking five questions.

What is our mission? The mission must reflect opportunities, competence, and commitment. Drucker cautions, “Never subordinate the mission in order to get money. If there are opportunities that threaten the integrity of the organization, you must say no.”

Who is our customer? “The primary customer is the person whose life is changed through your work… Primary customers may be infants, or endangered species, or members of a future generation.” Drucker notes that customer needs evolve. “And there are customers you should stop serving because the organization has filled a need, because people can be better served elsewhere, or because you are not producing results.” Philip Kotler adds, “Our business is not to casually please everyone, but to deeply please our target customers.”

What does the customer value? “Leadership should not even try to guess the answers but should always go to the customers in a systematic quest for those answers… People are so convinced they are doing the right things and so committed to their cause that they come to see the institution as an end in itself. But that’s a bureaucracy.”

What are our results? “Look at short-term accomplishments and long-term change… One of the most important questions for leadership is, Do we produce results that are sufficiently outstanding for us to justify putting our resources in this area?”

What is our plan? “The plan begins with a mission. It ends with action steps and a budget … If you have more than five goals, you have none… Goals make it absolutely clear where you will concentrate resources for results… Goals flow from mission, aim the organization where it must go, build on strength, address opportunity, and taken together, outline your desired future.” The board should set the direction, but not micromanage: “The board must not act at the level of tactical planning, or it interferes with management’s vital ability to be flexible in how goals are achieved.”

“Ask of any program, system, or customer group, ‘If we were not committed to this today, would we go into it?’ If the answer is no, say ‘How can we get out—fast?’… Planning is not an event. It is the continuous process of strengthening what works and abandoning what does not.”

Peter Drucker wrote the first edition in 1993. This edition is supplemented with chapters by Jim Collins, Philip Kotler, James Kouzes, Judith Rodin, V. Kasturi Rangan, and Frances Hesselbein. There is also a section with more detailed questions organized in subcategories under the five main questions.  In total the book is about 100 pages.

Drucker, Peter F. The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask about Your Organization an Inspiring Tool for Organizations and the People Who Lead Them. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008. Buy from

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