Nonprofits clearing hurdles to innovation

Nonprofit innovation
Nonprofit innovation

While the lack of resources represents a big challenge for nonprofits wanting to develop and sustain innovative ideas, some nonprofits are using a handful of key strategies to overcome those challenges, a new report says.

The report follows a survey in early 2010 by the Johns Hopkins Listening Post Project that focused on nonprofit innovation and performance measurement.

The survey found adoption of innovative practices by nonprofits was widespread but not as extensive as it could be because of a lack of funding.

It also found that nonprofits were not able to “move promising innovations to scale” because of “a lack of ‘growth capital,’ narrow government funding streams, and the tendency of foundations to encourage innovations but then not sustain support for them,” says the new report.

So the Listening Post Project held an online webinar in December 2010 that brought together nonprofit experts, representatives of nonprofit “intermediary” groups, and nonprofit practitioners.

The webinar generated ideas for three strategies to overcome funding limitations and successfully adopt innovations, the report says.

First, nonprofits can work with foundations that encourage collaboration.

Community foundations in the Cleveland area, for example, pooled significant resources to encourage nonprofits to consider new forms of collaboration, the report says.

Second, nonprofits can collaborate across fields.

A nonprofit consultant and social-innovation expert participating in the webinar said a “lack of resources is an almost universal barrier to implementing innovation, but that this can also be an opportunity for nonprofits to devise alternative means of executing their innovative ideas,” the report says.

One way to do that, the consultant said, is for organizations “to collaborate with other groups instead of building the capacity to carry out their programs by themselves,” the report says.

A third strategy is for nonprofits to look for collaborations with businesses that are “willing to provide services your organization needs,” the report says.

The consultant noted a “trend in the business sector, particularly among technology companies, to seek to collaborate with nonprofits by providing in -kind services or expertise as opposed to money.”

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