Innovation. Innovation. Innovation. Change. Move forward. Adapt. These are big themes in nonprofits – all organizations – these days. Especially innovation (hence stating it three times). The product, services and constituent landscape is changing very quickly.
How do organizations keep up? How, really, do they stay at all relevant in the eyes of their community, members, donors and clients?
Innovation is a key piece to be sure. And innovation – what it is, how to support it and how to make it work for organizations today – is the core of The Future of Nonprofits: Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age by David Neff and Randal Moss.
This is a book well worth getting into the hands of your executive director, board chair, other leaders and, well, give it a read yourself while you’re at it (assuming you’re not one of those head honcho types). Fact of the matter is that innovation can and should be pushed from all corners of organizations – every staff person, volunteer, board member and constituent. But, as Neff and Moss point out, “real” innovation must have leadership buy-in and ongoing support.
You see, innovation is not just about new features – a tweak here or there. Or, to use one of their examples, one more cup holder in the back seat. Innovation is about changes that produce measurable benefit to mission over time. And that will take full commitment to what they describe as the Three Pillars of Innovation:
Having worked in, with and around nonprofits and campaigns for 20+ years now I feel qualified to also identify “Structure” as one of the core elements of innovation (or stagnation). There are, of course, endless ways to approach structure in a nonprofit or any organization. And there is no one right way to structure staffing and collaboration to nurture innovation.
Lots of organizations talk about supporting innovation but few are able to listen to, process and help nurture ideas from staff and volunteers. It takes a structure to support that – one that clears away enough room for people to be creative, interact and move forward with intention…a sense that new ideas are just there to spin in the wind and provide amusement but could really have support from colleagues and leaders.
It is worth noting that much of the book is contextualized around social media. This channel/medium/amalgamation of networks that is social media has presented organizations with some great challenges and it is a great opportunity to innovate and thrive. Or not. Social media seems a good choice as far as a narrative framework and the reader will take away good ideas and tangibles to apply to their social media work regardless of the larger innovation topic.
To dispel any lingering notion that this book is “simply” an academic look at innovation – like, perhaps, so many biz books out there – the authors bring us great appendices with worksheets to help you review organizational readiness, pertinent job descriptions (for staffing and structure) and even some cartoons. Well, you’ll have to check those out for yourself.
All in all a strong effort and good addition to the reading list of anyone trying to increase organizational success or simply work better in this fast-changing world. Check out the website for more information and we’ve added one of Neff and Moss’ discussions about the book below.