Innovation in the nonprofit sector: How to jumpstart innovation in your organization today

June 28, 2016

What does the word innovation mean to you?

Does it conjure an elusive “a-ha!” moment? A flash of unexpected brilliance? Or maybe the work of a lone creative genius?

It’s not a word that some associate with the nonprofit sector. But as we previously explained, this sector is actually uniquely placed to be a leader in innovation. The nonprofit space is filled with examples of organizations steadily pursuing bold ideas and solving complex problems in new ways with limited resources – embodying innovation at its heart.

Knowing that the nonprofit sector – tasked with running  mission-driven businesses on lean expenses – is perfectly positioned for innovation, CRE launched our first-ever Innovation Bootcamp this past April, with the aim of helping our nonprofit clients catalyze and expand innovation in their work. Funded by the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), the first Bootcamp drew an enthusiastic response and we ran a second Bootcamp in May.

Angela Gonzalez from the Police Athletic League, who attended the program with her co-worker, said the structured methodology forced her “to think not only more, but differently…I liked being introduced to a different way of testing out solutions by placing myself in a stakeholder’s shoes.”

Even if you didn’t get to attend the Bootcamp, we’ve got a few steps you can take to start injecting innovation practices in your own workplace right now.

  • Make space and time for innovation: Innovation is a disciplined practice, not a one-off moment. Make time to brainstorm problem solving ideas.
  • Look at problem solving from the client or end user’s perspective: Anchor problem-framing and solution-generation in your client’s needs and motivations.
  • Ask questions: What do you need to learn about your problem and potential solutions?
  • Don’t be afraid to test and improve, test and improve: Quickly experiment – and don’t be afraid to fail – with some promising ideas. Role play scenarios. Mock up solutions. Listen to feedback.
  • Understand that innovation takes practice: Small alterations to mindset and behavior will help it become the new normal.

CRE will continue to build our innovation practice over the rest of the year – integrating key methodologies into our ongoing consulting work while also launching innovation specific offerings. We’ll explore applying empathy-based approaches to improve stakeholder experience, improving program designs and prototyping, and embedding innovation capacity within nonprofits. Stay tuned!

And if you can’t wait? Watch CRE’s website for more offerings or email to learn more.

By Fiona Kanagasingam, Director of Consulting for Talent Management and Innovation

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