Giving Compass’ Take:
• Here are six common elements that help nonprofit organizations build their capacity for innovation.
• How can donors identify opportunities to support innovation in nonprofits?
Recently The Bridgespan Group, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, surveyed 145 nonprofit leaders on their organizations’ capacity to innovate, which we define as a break from practice, large or small, that leads to significant positive social impact. For the large majority of this group, innovation is more than just a catchall slogan—it’s an urgent imperative to which 80 percent of them aspire.
The problem is, just 40 percent of these would-be innovators say their organizations are set up to do so. This gap worries us, because most respondents say that if they don’t come up with fresh solutions to the social sector’s myriad challenges—such as improving the academic performance of at-risk middle schoolers, increasing African farmers’ crop yields, or dramatically reducing the number of diarrhea-related deaths of young children worldwide—they won’t achieve the large-scale impact they seek.
But through our research, we have identified six elements common to nonprofits with a high capacity to innovate:
- Catalytic leadership that empowers staff to solve problems that matter
- A curious culture, where staff look beyond their day-to-day obligations, question assumptions, and constructively challenge each other’s thinking as well as the status quo
- Diverse teams with different backgrounds, experiences, attitudes, and capabilities—the feedstock for growing an organization’s capacity to generate breakthrough ideas
- Porous boundaries that let information and insights flow into the organization from outside voices (including beneficiaries) and across the organization itself
- Idea pathways that provide structure and processes for identifying, testing, and transforming promising concepts into needle-moving solutions
- The ready resources—funding, time, training, and tools—vital to supporting innovation work
Read the full article about nonprofit innovation by Nidhi Sahni, Laura Lanzerotti, Amira Bliss, & Daniel Pike at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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