Clandestinely, nonprofits the world over are taking a hard look at their models. For established nonprofits phrases like “earned income” and “alternative delivery” have slipped into strategy discussions where “grant strategy” and “donor relations” used to sit prominently. Model innovation is trending.
This is the first of a contemplated series tackling model innovation–subscribe to get updates!
Planning and New Ventures Driving the Conversation
Depending on fiscal calendars, nonprofits have likely completed or are looking shortly ahead to strategic planning sessions. Much more than just budget meetings, these guiding discussions and resultant documents take lessons from the past and direct the future of organizations in writing. Whether a frequent process for the ever-changing organization, or a harrowing 3/5-year strategy for those with more staid courses, these documents shape future efforts, inform sustainability, prescribe efficiency, and envision smart growth.
Separately, new nonprofits are frequently extolled for their wildly innovative strategies and courses. Seemingly every day, these enterprises spring up and anchor nascent ecosystems of similar model but varied cause. Innovative models like Digital Hope and Join the Lights, each shining sharply-focused media spotlights on remarkable projects and stories internationally, exemplify this.
It would appear existing organizations, now in the throes of strategic planning, have taken note.
A Common Thread
As part of my work as Founder of Quarterback, I meet with a wide variety of nonprofits (some Quarterback partners, some not) and talk business. Topics range widely from what their funding mix looks like to how successfully they leverage outside interest in their mission and cause. But one topic tends to resurface frequently: model innovation.
Nonprofits, now more than ever, are eagerly seeking out better ways to deliver their impact. At the extreme, social enterprises are being spun out of nonprofit parents. At the routine, nonprofits are taking a hard look at opportunities for earned income and alternative strategies. As this trend continues, organizations are likely to evolve, and the entire nonprofit sector may begin to shift toward new and increasingly innovative models.
Since I began conversations with nonprofits last year, I was surprised how many organizations were fervently interested in outside perspectives and a deeper look into their core models. Increasingly, these conversations focused on a tantalizing intersection: that of business and nonprofits. This market interest in model innovation, just as in the business sector, likely stems from a mix of internal and external factors (ask the banking or publishing industries for some visceral evidence).
Innovating for Impact
The principal triggers I see are: (1) the continued influx of new and innovative social enterprises and nonprofits founded seemingly every day (an external factor, to be sure), and (2) the compounding impact of iterative (and increasingly scrutinized) internal strategic evaluations of growing nonprofits. My conversations indicate that both factors are facilitating conversations and critiques of existing/in-place models with an eye towards change. Call it innovating for impact.
What do you think? I’m eager to hear what the buzz has been inside the organizations you run, support, or advise. Has model innovation been trending? Is the organization assessing alternatives as of late? Or is your organization constantly evaluating other methods? Let me know in the comments!