Seth Godin on Innovation, Failure and Why Non-profits Should Stop Operating like Businesses | npENGAGE

Seth Godin on Innovation, Failure and Why Non-profits Should Stop Operating like Businesses

By on Dec 28, 2010


Non-profit Innovation

Non-profit Innovation

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Seth Godin has some firm beliefs and thoughtful insights when it comes to how non-profits can (and should) change the world.

Back in January of 2008 he told us (the non-profit sector) that we should be looking to use the internet in new and innovative ways to build community and engage our supporters because direct mail, although still a huge revenue source, was beginning to show signs of fatigue.

More recently Godin spoke with the Chronicle of Philanthropy about Innovation, Failure and Why Non-profits should stop operating like businesses. I though you’d enjoy the interview.

After I watched that I immediately thought about what fundraising looks like today and how the internet and digital communication has affected the non-profit sector over the years. Here’s a quick peek into some key statistics.

[Troublesome] Fundraising Stats

  1. First Year Donor Retention is 29.3%
  2. Fundraising Email Response Rate is 0.13%
  3. 67% of donors plan to eliminate or reduce support to nonprofits that over‐solicit
  4. Only 26% of Nonprofits Rated their Websites Very Effective
  5. Recurring Gift Donors only accounted for 10% of all US Donors

You can read more about these stats and find the source studies over at Non-profit Trends. My buddy Steve does a great job keeping us all on our toes by bubbling up useful data points for us to evaluate as we continue to figure out how to use the internet in the non-profit sector.

My Question to You

Taking into account the post from Godin in 2008, his recent interview and the semi-troublesome statistics above … How can we continue to innovate in 2011? How can we continue to push the limits of the internet, social media, online fundraising, email communication, etc?

Or maybe a better way to think about the situation is to surface the things that have worked? The ways non-profits have innovated in the past two years?


Frank Barry, formerly worked at Blackbaud helping nonprofits use the Internet for digital communication, social media, and fundraising. He’s worked with a diverse group of organizations including LIVESTRONG, United Methodist Church, American Heart Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, ChildFund Int’l, InTouch Ministries, Heifer Int’l, University of Notre Dame and University of Richmond. Along with writing for industry publications like Mashable and Social Media Today, Frank facilitates discussions, presents solo sessions and organizes panels for industry conferences such as NTC, SXSW, BBCon and numerous others. When he’s out and about he enjoys talking to interesting people about how they are changing the world – check out his interviews. Say Hi on Twitter – @franswaa or Google+

Comments (16)

  • Stefan Mayo says:

    The very last question and reply is the best segment.

  • Marc Sirkin says:

    The problem is that we’re all locked into one mindset and Godin is about 10 steps ahead of us. It’s sort of like explaining quantum physics to an earthworm. I’d like to agree with him 100% but to also add that there is no way to jump to the end without going through a transformation. What Godin is talking about is really, really hard stuff. I like the idea of failing fast, but the reality is that failing feels like crap if you aren’t in a situation where it’s celebrated. And.. even if you are failing in good ways, it’s still failing to some people.

    Frank, here’s my answer to your question about innovating… forget about it. Let’s get back to the roots of non-profit and charity – and change the world by talking to our donors and our communities. Let’s stop for a moment and forget process charts and ROI and deeply engage our constituents, fans, followers and friends and commit to keep that conversation going and on-going. If that’s innovation, then I’m in.

    • frank barry says:

      I hear ya. It’s easy to get caught up in the rat-race (for lack of a better term) of tech. innovation – continually trying to use the new shinny object so that you (non-profits) can become more effective.

      At the end of the day, it’s really all about making real impact.

      I listened to the Executives at Crisis Ministries out of CHS speak this week. They use tech. and all that, but at the end of the day it’s the real life, in person, face to face serving that they do each and every day that changes lives. Without that everything else is pointless.

  • Anonymous says:

    Great post!

    There are a number of ways I’d like to innovate at the nonprofit I work at. I call it my “wish list.” (1) Implement QR codes on print collaterol to that people can scan-in to a donation page, a video, an event registration site or a game we’ve created for a campaign. (2) Provide our online constituents with tools they can use on social media so that they feel more instrumental in the growth of the organization and it’s efforts.

    • frank barry says:

      I love the fact that you are excited to experiment and try new things!!

      I’ve seen some cool uses for QR Codes lately. Actually, on a flight home yesterday I saw one in the FastCompany magazine – thought it was a cool idea that non-profits could implement in their print material.

      Have you thought about or tried to organize a team of your supporters who are active online? Sort of like a social media volunteer team? I’ve not seen anyone do this, but I think it could be a very cool way to approach engaging volunteers who are active on the social web – essentially extending your reach.

      • Anonymous says:

        I absolutely love what QR codes have to offer. I am starting to notice them in alot more magazines these days. QR codes are such an efficient way of spoon-feeding people information and almost making it effortless for them (except for the scanning-in part), but it beats typing in a web address.

        We have over 75 affiliates (chapters of volunteers) around the country and close to 95% of the affiliates have someone spearheading the social media. I am in contact with all those social media volunteers. I provide them with webinars, tutorials and info on all our campaigns so we can color the social media landscape purple for pancreatic cancer awareness and increase recruitment.

        I believe social media is one of the top, if not, the first entry way to the organization for a majory of constituents.

  • Thoroughly enjoyable post! Given the inspiration, I was pleasantly surprised! LOL.

    • frank barry says:

      Thanks for stopping in Geoff … but now you’ve got me wondering about the inspiration 🙂 … maybe I should write a post about how all non-profits should listen to SG so you’ll come by and elaborate on your thought a bit 🙂

  • Just a minute ago I’ve read about the “Career Path of the Corporate Social Strategist” and was yet again thinking why everything needs to be pressed into business models…

    Here I am listening to Seth Godin and am glad to be working in the non profit sector which has that one privilege to be allowed to fail and try again. Loved the ending about non profits beeing script writers and actors.

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