The Value of Innovation

Innovation is what creates and sustains a competitive advantage.

Your nonprofit’s competitive advantage makes your nonprofit unique. Your uniqueness makes it easier to attract support, enroll clients, recruit volunteers, and cultivate generous and loyal donors. Every competitive advantage whether it is a service difference, fundraising idea, or service outcome, it was an innovative idea that you proved was valuable to your community, donors, clients, and other stakeholders.

The community and stakeholders are the only arbiters of value that matter when judging an innovation. When they see the value, the innovation and the innovator receive wide support.

The uniqueness and value innovation creates makes them some of the most important assets a nonprofit owns. Like other assets, they require periodic maintenance. In fact, innovations are high-maintenance assets. If they are going to remain relevant and effective, they need frequent revision.

Next Step:

Use the response from your community, donors, and clients as measurable indicators of the value of your innovations (past and present)

Refine your innovations frequently to keep them relevant and increase their value to your stakeholders and community

Discard or replace innovations when it is impractical to improve them or their support from your stakeholders declines

The most difficult innovations to discontinue are those that were once mission centric. Every innovation that was once mission centric increased the sustainability of the mission. However, after a time that same innovation becomes a drain on sustainability. Those innovations often become the ‘scared cow’ whose past is more important than its future. While it is an uncomfortable question, every innovation must live or die based upon the answer to, “What is the value of the innovation to those we serve over the next 1, 5, and 10 years?” Every innovation without a multi-year value must be enhanced, eliminated, or replaced.

It is a harsh decision and a difficult one to carry out but every nonprofit exists to serve others. Being loyal to an expired innovation is always counter to serving the mission and limits the value provided to those you serve.

Take It Further:

Examine your current practices and traditions (embedded innovations) and determine which ones to eliminate

Create a culture where every innovation is judged based upon its future value to those you serve and those who support your mission (clients, donors, volunteers, and community)

Create a culture where innovation is encouraged and valued even when it displaces a scared cow


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