One of the best parts of my job, beyond working with some great clients, is traveling to speak about the latest trends in fundraising and millennial engagement.  After most presentations, individuals will come up to personally ask for advice. I love this one-on-one time with the the participants willing to wait in line just to get one burning question answered.

Many of these conversations start with an all too familiar opening…. “My organization is innovative because…” The organization then goes on to describe why they feel their services are unique and unlike any other nonprofit. This claim of innovation is becoming more and more common.  While some nonprofits may have truly unique program models and delivery approaches, often these claims start to sound the same.

Just now I did a quick online search and found 3 nonprofits with the following prominent statements on their website:

We are an innovative organization pairing youth with adult mentors throughout the city.

We are an innovative organization designed to help people to self-sufficiency.

We are an innovative nonprofit working in economically disadvantaged community to help people come together to solve social problems. 

The further I looked into each organization’s website, I started to read the same things over and over again. As I continue to come across these self-titled innovative organizations, I thought it was time to discuss what truly makes an organization innovative. 

When I look at innovative nonprofits several common traits come to mind:

Innovative Nonprofits Find Creative Solutions
Organizations are driven by leaders will to take risk and are at the forefront of new ideas to make their organization’s work better in the community.  Innovation doesn’t mean you create a process and come back to it 5 years later to see if you should still do it.  You continue to work on that process and make the way you deliver services better every day.   You are not satisfied with “it is what it is”.

They Are Not Afraid to Test New Concepts
Organizations that are not afraid to test a new concept with the thought that you may fail are innovative. They go into research and development with a true testing approach and ask themselves to push the envelope and actually deliver in order to determine if the current work should change.  Innovative fundraisers say, we will test text to give platforms and learn from the challenges or successes.  In essence, innovative organizations never say “I wish we would of…”

They Know to Pivot When Needed
Organizations that know something is off, don’t wait till next month’s board meeting to talk through it.  They pivot now in order to optimize results for the board when they meet.  They change when change is necessary and are not afraid to make the move in order to get a desired result.  Innovative nonprofits understand the changing dynamics of the current environment and know that today’s complex challenges require a more efficient and effective system to change.  Innovative organizations will never say “We need to hold on that idea till next month…”

Ultimately, Innovation Speaks for Itself
To me, innovation comes from others who tell their networks about an innovative organization they have encountered; not from those that self promote their practices as innovative. If you are truly innovative, you don’t need a statement telling us this. Your organization’s actions will speak for themselves and others will let you know because they have not seen anything else like it.

For more on innovation, read the following article on Fast Company about innovation in the DNA of companies and organizations: The DNA–People, Processes, And Philosophies–Of Innovative Companies

Share with us your thoughts on innovation in the comments or on Twitter with @achieve_consult.