by Michelle Sicignano, LMSW, Staff Writer, Social Justice Solutions
An interesting piece from Seth’s Blog Non-profits have a charter to be innovators, made me wonder.
Seth Godin says, “The biggest, best-funded non profits have an obligation to be leaders in innovation, but sometimes they hesitate.
One reason: “We’re doing important work. Our funders count on us to be reasonable and cautious and proven, because the work we’re doing is too important to risk failure.”
One alternative: “We’re doing important work. Our funders count on us to be daring and bold and brave, because the work we’re doing is too important to play it safe.”
The thing about most cause/welfare non-profits is that they haven’t figured out how to solve the problem they’re working on (yet). Yes, they often offer effective aid, or a palliative. But no, too many don’t have a method for getting at the root cause of the problem and creating permanent change. That’s because it’s hard (incredibly hard) to solve these problems.
The magic of their status is that no one is expecting a check back, or a quarterly dividend. They’re expecting a new, insightful method that will solve the problem once and for all.
Go fail. And then fail again. Non-profit failure is too rare, which means that non-profit innovation is too rare as well. Innovators understand that their job is to fail, repeatedly, until they don’t.”
I’m not sure I’d relish repeated or wide scale non-profit failure, but in essence he has a very valid point. While agencies do have accountability to stakeholders, and effective aid and containing problems and issues have their necessary place in society, continuing to use the same old, tried methods will only garner the same results. We spend countless dollars on research, yet seemingly few of those dollars trickle down to innovative program development.
Innovation should not be a taboo word in social service and non-profit. And innovation should mean much more than changing wording or forms. Small, innovative pilot projects can be instituted to build a programs geared toward solutions, and not just containment, and with all the advantages of technology, this can in turn help build an evidence base which is sorely lacking in many areas.
Where you do weigh in?
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I think Seth is right in suggesting that funding is the biggest issue. You have to walk the thin line in grant writing between offering something innovative and eye catching to a reviewer while also offering enough evidence to support that your innovation will work. This means that our changes in NFPs happen in small increments rather than leaps and bounds. As a research I always fall back on support, but there is a bit of hindrance to creativity because of it. Beyond that, people aren’t comfortable failing which makes it even more difficult!
Getting comfortable with failure is classic life advice, not just business or NFP. If you never fail at anything, it’s likely that you never try anything new..or so ancient wisdom holds.;-)
I work in a non-profit and well if a grant is applied for and a program, group, etc runs for 6 months, 12 months, however long the funding will take you, the program may or may not continue depending on if there is other funds available-a donation perhaps?
Sometimes the program ends. Great ideas and solutions come about if staff is asked for such. There is always a Board of Directors, management, staff and of course the original funding source to report to.