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Is Innovation Necessary? Think before you reach for the "Shiny New Object"

We all know the buzzwords – cultivation, transformation, implementation, innovation. After a while they seem like words without any meaning. In some cases, organizations are trying to be shapeshifters in order to fit into a funder's priorities when they are actually losing focus as to what makes their organizations tick. Also, they don't seem to keep their clients and supporters at the top of mind. Here's an example….

An organization that I have supported for many years wanted to take on this new and innovative evidence-based program. They weaved it into applications, the board voted to approve it, and began to discuss it at conferences and other community-based events. Guess what? The program required too many funding strings, and the organization had to backtrack on its implementation. How can organizations avoid the push to offer a shiny new object when existing services are perfectly fine, especially when funders want to see the shiny buzzwords?

  • The originals: Many organizations, especially those that offer social/human services are mainstays in the community. They provide critical basic needs support, but sometimes what they do isn't the trendiest topic. Instead of revamping your work, maybe innovation is offering what you do already in a new way. Why create a new service, offering, or product when it deviates from your existing great work? 
  • Mission focus: If you continually shift from your mission, there is no clear path to success. Let's say you have a robust strategic plan and it incorporates some specific priorities, is there a way to stay focused on those items rather than chasing after new dollars in the hopes of creating a concept or idea that isn't fully developed? Can your staff and existing resources even handle a new program when maintenance of existing program might be top priority?
  • Systems in place: Your organization might want to implement some type of policy or protocol regarding your grant seeking activities. Is there a standard practice as to how you determine the funding to pursue? A go-no go assessment, priority ranking system or some other review process might help your organization maintain focus and mindful.
  • Stakeholder analysis: Who is driving the need for innovation? Is it the staff, board, organizational leadership, or a funder? It might not be a bad idea to conduct a stakeholder analysis to determine who should be making decisions regarding the funds you pursue. 

Given all the changes and trends in the nonprofit sector, you can't always be moving forward. If you begin to think through this, innovation could potentially be a step backward.
Is there a reason you need to innovate?
Rachel Werner is the Owner and CEO of RBW Strategy, LLC and provides grants and project management consulting support to nonprofits, government and business entities.

This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.