Innovate & Thrive or Stagnate & Die | npENGAGE

Innovate & Thrive or Stagnate & Die

By on May 9, 2011


Guest Blog Alert: The following post is by David J. Neff, co-author of The Future of Nonprofits. In David’s own words “I help nonprofits and people for a living. I do that with Lights. Camera. Help. and HelpAttack!. I also do large scale collaborative events like Nonprofit Bar Camp and VideoCamp Texas. I would say that I am an author, teacher, speaker, blogger, network weaver, and social media scientist.” Thanks for contributing David!

To be competitive in the future, organizations have to create a culture of innovation that will drive a continuous flow of new, relevant and successful business projects and programs. This works for nonprofits and for-profits.

If you have the desire to become innovative you probably recognize that the way to win in the future is to reshape your culture and fire up the internal innovation engine. Simply put NPOs can innovate and thrive, or stagnate and die.

Regardless of size, every organization can create an internal innovation engine. The key to success is getting your corporate culture right and then tapping into the new found potential with an efficient and effective structure designed to harness and act on the newly uncovered ideas.

1. Get Aware!

Stop having all your employees focusing on working and start thinking outside of their explicit job role. You can transform your culture just by mandating that your employees attend conferences that are tangent to their job responsibilities, read articles by authors outside of your field, and engage in communities they are passionate about. Find inspiration and ideas outside of your field and bring them into your work. In today’s digital world if every employee is not actively thinking about how they can incorporate new technology into their job function you are falling behind! Do not be afraid to re-purpose brilliant concepts to fit your organization.

2. Staff Right!   

You can also transform your culture by adding eager, creative thinkers and empowering them to contribute beyond their job duties. Innovation by addition only works if you are willing to screen and hire new employees for skill sets beyond the typical job description. Hire people who can fulfill the job description but can bring additional expertise and experience in areas like social media, film and video production and gaming. The future is online, and getting people excited about the challenge of leading the NPO field into the digital age are a critical step in creating that culture of innovation.

3. Set Your Structure!

The most critical component of an innovation transformation is the structure that takes “ideas” and transforms them into “innovations.” By our definition an innovation is a new idea that drive tangible value. Having a structure that can bring in hundreds of new ideas and filter them to find the next great innovation is the most critical elements of building an innovation engine in your organization. A great structure is more than a set of filters, a great structure provides an entire organization with a way to engage their staff, volunteers, and constituents in finding solutions to the most challenging problems. A great structure rewards new ideas and provides growth opportunities for those who are courageous enough to submit their ideas for consideration. A great structure can evaluate hundreds of new ideas each year and identify the 2% that will drive real meaningful value to the organization, the constituent, donors and volunteers.

4. Execute!

Take the first steps! Engage your entire staff, constituency, and volunteer network in becoming active contributors to your innovation effort. Make innovative thinking a metric of success in staff reviews and get serious about the evaluation of new ideas. Don’t just talk about being innovative, seek out a great idea, evaluate it, test it, and celebrate the success across your organization.

So how do I do all this in a 40 hour work week? You don’t! You spread it out over time and months. Want to see how it works? Take a look at our book The Future of Nonprofits and order your copy to learn more.

At SXSW this year, David’s co-author Randal Moss took a second to provide us with this interview. It is a great video complement to the points David makes here. Enjoy!



From time to time, a guest blogger will appear on npENGAGE. Guest bloggers are industry experts contributing useful, relevant content to the conversation on npENGAGE. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, contact the editor.

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