Proverbs of Nonprofit Financial Management

George E. Mitchell, Thad D. Calabrese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Whereas the field of public administration has benefited from periods of critical reflection and reform aimed at reexamining the field’s traditional management paradigms, the related field of nonprofit management has generally lacked such an analogously explicit and sustained research program to reevaluate its own conventional wisdoms. Meanwhile, accumulated findings from the last several decades of nonprofit management research have problematized many traditional assumptions and practices in nonprofit management, specifically regarding the soundness of nomothetic management theory, the unintended negative consequences of certain management norms, and underlying assumptions about the nature and purpose of nonprofit management. This article critically reexamines four well-known “proverbs” of nonprofit financial management—minimize overhead, diversify revenues, be lean, and avoid debt—to demonstrate the need for a critical and reflective research program that takes stock and reconsiders the field’s foundational principles and assumptions. Implications are derived for scholars and practitioners, as well as for information intermediaries that evaluate nonprofits based on financial information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)649-661
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Review of Public Administration
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 1 2019


  • debt
  • diversification
  • nonprofit financial management
  • overhead
  • reserves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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