Bad News is Good News


I call my bad news early detection system “porpoising.” Think about a porpoise, repeatedly diving deep into the ocean and then rising to the surface; gathering information at all levels. As a manager, you should periodically “porpoise” beyond your direct reports to talk to diverse groups of people at every level in your nonprofit. Porpoising is designed to unearth valuable information, whether in the short term or for the long haul. Porpoising expresses a culture of observant listening — and enables you to “hear” sounds of trouble before you learn about it through official channels.

Appreciating the value of bad news

The message on the right can be deceptively simple. At first it appears counter-intuitive. But you’ll soon learn to recognize that good news is not as useful as you might think; no news can be a sign of problems; and bad news affords an opportunity for change.

Good news is no news. No news is bad news. And bad news is good news — if you do something about it.

Conversation Starter

Bad News Is Good News

A complete set of conversation starters to accompany the chapter.


Bad News Is Good News Toolkit

A complete set of tools to accompany the chapter.

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8 Practical Insights for Nonprofit Leaders


Culture matters. It’s a core organizational asset.


Respecting and trusting your people is the foundation of all good management.


Always listen for and even seek out signs of trouble. Bad news is good news if you do something about it.


Develop “court sense” to see everything that’s happening around you, and to rapidly adjust to changes.


Commit to doing “the whole job.” Investing in organizational capacity contributes to excellence and impact.


With limited time and resources, it’s essential to prioritize and then focus.


Planning is essential but success comes from the implementation of your ideas. “Book It and Ship It.” Make a decision and manage the consequences.


To create a culture of accountability, reinforce individual ownership of problems. Always ask, “Who owns the monkey?”