Your Next Innovation

In local marketplaces, after two or more nonprofit have been offering competing services for several years, the best ideas become best practices and everyone is using them.  Therefore, clients choose service providers based upon cost, convenience, etc.  That leads the donors, referral sources, and advocates to make their decisions based upon the same criteria, which lowers the level of enthusiasm, generosity, loyalty, and engagement in the support base.  All of the service providers stop growing and their sustainability becomes fragile.

When the preceding occurs, growth stops.  The clients are receiving what the clients received a few years ago, so the results are the same as a few years ago.  The nonprofits may see a small increase in clients because of population growth.  However, that incremental growth only sustains market share, which is stealth stagnation.

Someone must disrupt the market.  When the disruption is caused by a new entrant into the market, usually some of the current entities suffer or exit the market because of their limited sustainability.

Your nonprofit could be the disrupter and enjoy the benefits of growing sustainability, growing client demand, and increased support from all sources.  Almost every nonprofit’s most valuable asset is its people.  Create the disruption by leveraging what your people have to offer.

When your nonprofit is looking for its next innovation (value-add) here are a few ideas:

Ideation – Your staff is good at seeing patterns.  How can you incorporate a process that works well in one area (accounting, human resources, finance, retail, manufacturing, etc.) into your service delivery model?

This might mean diving deeply into the current programing to determine what works, why, when, and how often.  From there look for ways to change the way your programs are monitored, results are measured, or help is offered.

Expertise – Your mission promises a meaningful, measureable, and durable solution to one of society’s problems.  How can your staff use its expertise to add more depth or breadth to your programing?

This might mean empowering the clients to do more for themselves so that your staff has more time to educate clients (share expertise) and engage in complex communication (explain why rather than what to do, how to do it, and when to do it).  The education might provide big-picture insights that allow clients to see issues more broadly.  Put another way, find ways to augment your programing rather than execute your programing.

Emotions – Think deeply about the emotional needs of clients.  Determine how to better engage, empower, encourage, motivate, or support clients both during and after a client is in your program.

Automate – Look for ways to replace some of the simple tasks within your programing with e-tools.

Narrow – Find a service area or client need that is narrow, but very necessary and underserved, and focus on specializing in that area.

Broaden – Offer precursor services, preventative services, or post-completion services.

Whatever you do others can copy.  Engage your clients in the process of discovering your disruptive innovation.  Also, engage your supporters.  Those two groups will provide you with valuable insights.  Without those insight, when someone attempts to copy your process they will discard something as unnecessary or fail to fully implement other elements simply because they undervalue what you are doing.  In other words, the insights you gain will become your secret sauce.

Next Step:

Look for a way to disrupt your market niche

Engage your clients and supporters in the disruptor identification, selection, development, and implementation processes

Establish criteria for selecting a disruptor

The disruption selection criteria are relatively simple.  You want something that is able to fulfill as many of the following as possible:

Creates additional value for your community

Provides your nonprofit with a measurable, meaningful, and durable competitive advantage

Is clearly unique

Provides your clients with an outcome benefit (better, easier to achieve, more durable, etc.)

Highlights the expertise of your staff and the robustness of your programing

Increases support (growth, increased generosity, greater loyalty, diversity, etc.)

The focus of every innovation should be increased benefits to your clients.  When an innovation is disruptive enough to create meaningful, measurable, durable, and obvious benefits for your clients, it establishes your nonprofit as the leader.  The benefits of leading are growth, increased sustainability, and great support.  While the benefits are substantial for your nonprofit, the motivation must always be to find mission-centric changes that provide significant benefits for your clients.

Take It Further:

Use the change in your market share as an indicator that your disruption was effective

Look for a disruptor every year

Budget funds annually for the identification, selection, and creation of your next disruption


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