Comfort Does Not = Innovation
Years ago, I had the privilege of working at a nonprofit that attempted to drive innovation internally. It spent several years allowing the creation of “Learning Labs.” The budget assigned to these “labs” was viewed differently than other budgets but classically when the recession hit — as with many companies, budgets like these were not able to stick around. But, it was the right idea.
Nonprofits invest in research around their missions — be they health-related, social services, environmental, etc. They provide grants to third parties to find new ways to further the mission or fight the particular cause.
If you’re a nonprofit, why aren’t you providing grants within your organization? Why aren’t you providing grants to teams to find new engagement ideas, new fundraising techniques, new donor-services processes to drive greater loyalty, new ways of gathering donor insight and input to make you smarter in marketing and fundraising?
Peter Drucker, a major influence on nonprofit management and models, said that “innovation is the process of turning opportunities into new ideas, adopting these ideas within the organization and the successful application of the resulting novelties such that they provide value to the organization.” That’s a mouthful, but it couldn’t hit the nail on the head better.
If you are a nonprofit executive, why don’t you want to drive a competitive advantage through innovation? You say you do? Great, put your money where your mouth is and similar to the advice above for agencies: Create a budget for it, and create goals and assign accountability to staff that can drive it.
If you’re a nonprofit marketer or fundraiser, why aren’t you forcing this conversation? Force it with your agency, force it with your executives and by all means, force yourself to be what you studied and trained to be. To be a fundraiser is to be a marketer with a specific purpose, and to be a marketer who’s not looking for the next big idea or the next opportunity is to fail. Sorry for the harsh words, but as a nonprofit marketer/fundraiser, I hold myself to the same thinking. You certainly don’t want to lose your job by being a pest, but if your executives won’t listen keep trying to have the conversation. If your agency won’t listen, fire it and find one that will. In fact, I would go as far as saying your agency should have yearly goals around innovation. I’m not talking about a new ask string, a new message strategy — I’m talking about real game-changing ideas.