Five mindsets for nonprofit innovation

30 Dec

An innovative fund raising strategy- see Mindset #5 below to learn more

Over the past year, I’ve been developing and refining a workshop series on applied innovation for different audiences. I just offered “Five Mindsets for Nonprofit Innovation” focused on nonprofit project development and improvement. It was great fun!

Whether or not you consider yourself creative, you’ve undoubtedly contributed to innovation. This is because innovation is largely a social, iterative process of developing, building upon and testing ideas over time. Whether you are more comfortable generating ideas, connecting ideas, posing questions, or evaluating options– you’ve helped move ideas to action. That’s innovation.

My workshop focused on five conversation starting points for shaping an initial raw insight– an aha moment– into something of unique value. Each starting point represents a “mindset” for innovation.

Here are some great examples of nonprofit innovation that illustrate the five mindsets.

Monika's House: The Oregonian/Beth Nakamura

MINDSET 1: Pair unlikely bedfellows

Combining diverse concepts into a new idea is a classic exercise in creativity. Monika’s House in Hillsboro, Oregon is a shelter for victims of domestic violence. It’s unusual in that it created an adjacent animal shelter to house the pets of people who’ve fled their homes.  This brings mutual comfort at a time of great stress. How could the idea of combining human and animal shelters be even further stretched?

MINDSET 2: Feature the flaw

Harvard Business Review blogger Scott Anthony coined this phrase as an innovation tactic. He points to early international eco-tourism destinations that positioned remoteness and lack of creature comfort as value-added features. This mission-driven business  provides another example of featuring the flaw. Traveleyes is a British company that organizes tours for mixed groups of visually impaired and sighted travelers. Its premise is to deliver multiple ways of “seeing” the world, to the mutual benefit of both types of traveler.

Community of Hope, Rantoul, Illinois

MINDSET 3: Push extremes

What if you could do the impossible? What big assumptions could you discard? The Illinois based nonprofit Generations of Hope re-imagined foster care by breaking the assumption that foster children, by definition, bounce around a system of temporary caretakers. On a decommissioned air force base with vacant housing, they built a new “system” in the form of a stable long term community. The new community includes families interested in adoption who gain a mutual support system; senior citizens interested in grand-parenting and mentoring, who receive subsidized rent; and a critical mass of older foster children who gain understanding peers. This creative and  intentional web of interdependent relationships has generated award-winning results.

Sustain a Raiser

MINDSET 4: Shrink your concept

This doesn’t necessarily mean cutting the cost of a program or service, but it does mean peeling away what’s unessential or overly complex. A great example of this idea in action is the Sustain a Raiser initiative of New Hampshire-based Global Awareness Local Action.With a focus on building a strong sustainable community, G.A.L.A. has shrunk the traditional barn raiser concept to promote resource conservation and self-sufficiency through yard/house retrofits. Through a youth-employment focused business venture, G.A.L.A. sells compost bins, digs garden beds, installs clotheslines and even offers “zero carbon lawn maintenance” (rotary mowing!). With these activities, it makes sustainable development concrete and accessible for its community.

What charitable cause does this picture represent?

MINDSET 5: Flip your idea

This mindset involves exploring the opposite of your initial idea, your original solution, your obvious choice. The photo at left perfectly illustrates this concept. Oregon Dental Foundation Executive Director Charlie LaTourette flipped an idea when he used a series of similar images in a new fund raising video for ODF’s  Tooth Taxi program. The Tooth Taxi carries volunteers to poor and remote communities around the state, and makes dental care to children who otherwise don’t have access. Rather than pictures of cute children, teeth in need of care, the Tooth Taxi vehicle or volunteers, Charlie chose brief counter-intuitive images to poignantly show the unique personalities of children served. Here is the whole 60 seconds: Tooth Taxi Shoes. I love it!

As Pablo Picasso said, “An idea is a point of departure and no more. As soon as you elaborate it, it becomes transformed by thought.”  Start with these five conversation starters, or mindsets, for innovation.