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Innovation Constrained

Each of us tries to do our jobs a little better every day. However, that rarely provides a competitive advantage for our organizations.

If a nonprofit wants a competitive advantage, it must innovate. The rapid evolution of our society demands that nonprofits innovate. The constantly evolving needs of the clients require nonprofits to innovate. Innovation is a survival skill and an imperative for every nonprofit.

The risk of a failed innovation can keep nonprofits from trying something new and unproven. However, without risk the rewards are minimal and never enough to enhance the sustainability of the mission or improve the survival chances of the nonprofit itself. In addition, the cause the mission serves needs innovation to keep society’s demand for a solution from being overwhelming.

The business model for the nonprofit is unaffected by incremental change (what we do every day to make our work a little better). Innovation by its nature disrupts the business model.

When a nonprofit waits until it is forced by the market to innovate, there is a lower probability of success. If innovation is deferred, it is hard to find the time or skills necessary. Since financial needs are usually the factor that alerts management to the need for innovation, the lack of funds compound the lack of time and skills. The need for a crisis response further compounds the problems by reducing the goodwill of clients, donors, and other support sources.

Since many nonprofits rarely think about the components of their business model, it is hard for them to predict what impact the innovation will have on the various components. This further compounds the risk, time, and cost associated with innovation.

Next Step:

Assess your business model or ask Mission Enablers to provide you with an objective assessment of your business model to determine if there are parts of the business model that are constraining innovation

Select two or three promising areas for innovation

Set an annual goal for the number of innovations (create an innovation culture)

Ensure that innovation always has the funds it needs by allocating funds each year in the budget for innovation

Setting annual innovation goals ensures that innovation is a priority. It ensures your programming will always be just what your clients need for their success. Since more than half of all innovations fail to meet expectations, always having 2 or 3 in process makes it possible to have periodic successes.

Innovation is an iterative process. The innovations that fall short still teach you something about what will work. The lack of success should never constrain future ideas or initiatives.

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