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By on Sep 12, 2011 | NONPROFIT-FUNDRAISING

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Everywhere I go I keep hearing the same word – innovation.

Convio clients are innovating everyday… testing new combinations of multi-channel messaging, building on our open platforms, exploring social media, and shifting away from isolated departments and siloed technology to an approach focused on constituent engagement.

And at the Convio Summit – just a few short weeks away we’ll reward the most creative innovators in our community.

This summer’s launch of Convio Luminate was the introduction of a significant innovation as well, one several years in the making.

Innovation is officially one of Convio’s core values and something every employee is evaluated on, so it was a good topic for me to dig into last week when I attended the Texas Nonprofit Summit here in Austin.

The theme was officially “Leading the Charge for Social Change.” In a nutshell: innovation.

As Chuck Wall remarked in his session “Stop Competing…Start Innovating!” innovation is not invention. It is improving something that already exists. It’s first of all about identifying a need – whether explicit or unarticulated – and only when the problem is fully understood, exploring better ways meet that need, assessing their feasibility and testing them.

Some great examples from that session:

  • Sweet Beginnings in Chicago, which developed a community-based honey farm to provide transitional employment for ex-offenders,
  • 826, which responded to a zoning challenge by becoming a pirate supply store, then they added The Museum of Unnatural History, The Boring Store, and several others,
  • And Compassion International’s adaptation of a technology used in kidney treatment to provide an immediate, long-lasting source of clean water in rural communities in Africa and elsewhere.

Later in the conference, in sessions not specifically addressing innovation, I heard about others:

  • ACH Child and Family Services, an organization that received a church as part of a donation of land and turned it into a successful wedding chapel to fund their mission (1);
  • Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, which set out to provide translation services and realized they could teach translation and interpretation courses as well (1);
  • Water.org and others who have raised money and awareness selling virtual animals in Farmville (2).

Innovation seems to be an important topic everywhere lately. Which is not surprising. Innovation during boom times is a luxury, but right now many organizations are working to diversify funding, to get above the noise, and to solve evolving social problems.

And that is a good reason to remember that the most critical investment you make in innovation is not the ultimate funding you need to launch it. It’s the investment of time and resources you make now to understand the unmet needs of your donors, your clients and your community.

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1 – From Charlotte Keany’s session, “Funding Outside the Box: Earning Revenue through Social Enterprise”
2 – From David Neff’s session, “Top Trends in Technology that Affect the Future of Nonprofits”

You can see all the slides from the TX Nonprofit Summit here. 

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