Michelle Sicignano, LMSW

Michelle Sicignano, LMSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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For Non-Profits, Innovation or Caution?

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.

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  1. michellesicignano November 30, 2012

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