People often think of innovation as futuristic, cutting-edge technology, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, many nonprofits successfully use existing technology to innovate in more subtle ways, implementing solutions that are often both low-cost and effective.
- Nonprofits that want to innovate by finding new ways to use familiar technology can follow these five steps.
- Identify Your Needs: Take the time to step back and assess what you could be doing better, or differently. What are your constituents’ biggest complaints? What gets in the way of reaching your constituents or helping them solve their challenges? Is there a gap in your services that would make a big difference for your clients? Is there something you’ve always wished you could do if you had the time or tools? Make a list of all the things you might be able to do better.
- Understanding the Technology: Educate yourself about the technologies available to you — those that you already have and other affordable solutions relevant to your needs. List the tools that you like best or seem most useful.
- Connect Needs and Technology: When you look at your needs and technologies side by side, do connections jump out at you? It’s sometimes helpful to go one-by-one and spend some time thinking about how each technology can be used to address each need—you might be surprised at what you’ve overlooked.
- Build Support: Innovation fails without support. Make sure the people who will use the technology are on board with new ideas and experimentation. Also, commit the dollars and hours necessary to keep your program going. A lot of good ideas die a slow death because staff members don’t have the money and time they need to keep it up.
- Refine Your Approach: You’re innovating, so leave room for trail and error. Don’t give up quickly if things are not working out. Look at why it’s not working and think about how you can address those issues.
Programmatic innovation is within reach for nonprofits, but it requires committing to the process and being flexible enough to move forward with good ideas and leave bad ideas behind. There’s an enormous, untapped opportunity for innovation — jump in and get started.