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innovation

The New Trickle Down Effect: Why Nonprofits Are Innovators for Industry

teaching innovation

The company for which I work annually invests millions of dollars to help nonprofit organizations better understand and engage with their donors and visitors… and nonprofit leaders should know why.

It’s been a while since I wrote about myself, so I hope that you won’t mind my taking a moment to point out a trend: Inevitably, after talking shop with readers of “Know Your Own Bone” (but who may not know much about IMPACTS), there’s an awkward moment of silence before I’m asked, “So, why do you do what you do, and how does it…work?”

It sounds like a strange question, but I’ve come to understand exactly what they are asking.

Here’s a bit more about my “day job,” but, on “Know Your Own Bone,” my mission is to make accessible “big data” and data-informed analysis to nonprofit organizations for free (i.e. no advertisements, promoted opinions, sales pitches, etc.) Of course, this response often begs a few follow-up questions: How can I do this and feed myself? And how is this not detrimental to IMPACTS?

It’s no secret that there isn’t generally a massive pile of cash associated with helping nonprofits, and yet I work with a for-profit company that invests millions of dollars to help organizations better understand their market opportunities. It almost risks sounding like an example of “Do as I say, not as I do” – except, it’s decidedly not.

Nonprofit organizations are infinitely complex, and helping to understand how the market engages with that sector has proven incredibly valuable to the other sectors that IMPACTS serves. Indeed, when it comes to innovation, some of the best R&D happening in our space is being pioneered by nonprofits. For once, the “Next Practices” are trickling down from the nonprofit sector to the corporate world.

Here’s why:

1) Motivating visitation and/or giving decisions relies on understanding a series of complex behaviors

While it’s true that nonprofit organizations are not always the quickest to evolve, they rarely get the pat on the back that they deserve for working in an industry that can be exponentially more complex than that of most private enterprise.

Consider this visitor-serving organization example: Getting someone to visit a museum (or theater, symphony, science center, botanic garden, aquarium, historic site, etc.) requires an understanding of many multi-faceted, high-barrier motivations and behaviors. To get to a museum, for instance, a family would need to decide the visit would be worthy of their time, prioritize that experience over every other leisure time pursuit (including staying home and relaxing!), find an open day in everyone’s schedules, get the family dressed and into the car, drive to the museum, park, pay for that parking, play real-life Frogger hustling across a busy street, pay for admission, explore the facilities with the kids until they get tired, stop for snacks (if the kiddos get cranky), avoid (or embrace) the gift shop, then return to the car and fight traffic on the way home…

(Pant, pant…) There is a lot about consumer behavior to understand there…and we haven’t even yet begun to consider the philanthropic motivations that play an important role in helping nonprofits thrive. Perhaps now one can start to understand how – when compared to motivating engagement with nonprofit organizations – getting someone to buy a car, go to a movie, or even vote for a political candidate seems downright simple!

 

2) Understanding those behaviors and motivations informs other industries

Contrast the task of motivating the behavior of visiting an organization with the task of, say, motivating that same small family to enjoy a specific television show in pajamas in the comfort of their own home. If you are a member of the entertainment industry trying to get folks to watch a show – or even sign up for an “on demand” entertainment delivery platform, there is much less to understand and far fewer barriers to engagement.

Understanding why folks behave (or, for that matter, do not behave) in the interests of nonprofit organizations provides IMPACTS with incredible data and insight attendant to extremely complex behaviors, the transitive applications of which frequently inure to the benefit of comparatively less-complex behaviors such as, say, watching television.

Yes. What you work hard to understand and do in your day-to-day jobs at your organization actually informs how other industries do business…because the behaviors that nonprofit organizations motivate are complex and understanding them sheds light on the “hard to measure” aspects of human behavior and motivation. Unlocking the key to complex human behaviors and motivations is the secret sauce in many a corporation’s recipe for success…and the pioneers in this research are often nonprofits.

 

3) People. Planet. Profit. (You actually have THREE bottom lines)

Nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations must not only sustain themselves (some more than others), but they must also serve their communities (people) and social missions (planet). That’s a whole lot to think about compared to private entities – which, generally, are primarily obligated to the single bottom line of profit.

At the risk of some simplification, “profit” is relatively simple to figure out. People and planet – ostensibly selfless business motivations – are a little more inscrutable. And, yet, in our modern era where corporate social responsibility is increasingly good business, there is a growing need to better understand the more intricate aspects of human behaviors.

Again, this doesn’t even touch upon the topic of philanthropy – the motivations of which defy traditional utility curves.

Most simply put, nonprofit organizations are metaphorically juggling three balls at once…while many corporate entities are consumed by the one ball that they have up in the air. Add to this circus the fact that, well, two of your juggling balls are rather strangely shaped. (I love bad metaphors.) Understanding the expertise that goes into juggling three balls at once helps make the work of those with only one or two balls a whole lot easier.

 

4) Nonprofiteers are better than they think (but the imperative to evolve remains urgent)

Visitor-serving organizations, like many nonprofits, can get a bad rap. They are sometimes called slow-moving or culturally antiquated. Negative substitution of audiences is making increasing attendance difficult and long-siloed structures impede abilities to be agile and adaptive. CEOs of nonprofits are generally paid less than their for-profit peers, and retaining talent in a highly-competitive market can be a struggle.

However, consider again that visitor-serving organizations work every day to motivate a series of complex behaviors intended to inspire folks to act in the best interest of not only themselves, but of their larger communities. While some organizations have become accustomed to patting themselves on the back for achieving mediocracy, it’s important to keep in mind that, in many ways, the continued relevance of nonprofits and visitor-serving entities in the face of many challenges is quite a remarkable feat!

I think people who work in nonprofits are the best kinds of fighters. That’s why I’m lucky to get to work with them and that’s why I feel passionate about hounding my company to continue to help them.

 

5) Much of the data conceptually belongs to you

Providing data and insight in a transparent, open-fashion feels like a good practice. Doing the right thing is a reward unto itself. And, in terms of the means of effectuating knowledge transfer, “giving away” information for free is the very nature of blogging.

I don’t think it’s fair to gather information about human behavior regarding visitor-serving organizations and simply sit on it for monetary purposes. Luckily, the company for which I work doesn’t think that either. So I get to share some of it here. I am grateful for that.

The more information I share, the more I hope that I can garner your trust and provide aid as a valuable resource. If I can do that, the data will be more helpful…and the changes we are seeking will have greater impacts in our communities.

Leaders of nonprofit organizations: pat yourselves on the back. What you’re doing is hard, important, and paving the way. 

Data proves it.

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Museums, Nonprofits, The Future, Words of Wisdom 3 Comments

Announcing: Student Sponsorship Opportunities to Attend MuseumNext Conference 2014

MuseumNext3

Know any upcoming museum leaders? IMPACTS wants to help museum-and-innovation-loving students attend MuseumNext’s 2014 conference in NewcastleGateshead, UK by offering sponsorships to ten attendees…and applying is simple!

I almost never utilize Know Your Own Bone as an announcement board, but this opportunity is near and dear to my heart. An important part of “future-proofing” organizations is investing in the people who will someday be leaders.

Now in its sixth year, MuseumNext  is a “must attend” event for anyone interested in museum innovation.
The 2014 conference will take place June 18-20 in NewcastleGateshead, UK and will offer more than 40 presentations, workshops and sessions.
MuseumNext attracts delegates from across the globe and offers a unique chance to network with those shaping the future of museums.

IMPACTS is offering ten students the opportunity to attend the conference with a bursary which will cover conference attendance and two nights accommodation in NewcastleGateshead.

Applying is outrageously simple: To apply for an IMPACTS bursary, please email izzy@sumodesign.co.uk with your name, university, and relevant coursework by May 18th 2014. MuseumNext will then select 10 students at random to receive this support.

As many of my readers know by now, I am thrilled to be a keynote speaker at MuseumNext’s 2014 conference. I’ll be digging deeper into one of my favorite topics: The relationship between digital and physical “touch” and the important role that it plays.

Please pass this information along to any ambitious up-and-comers who may be interested in the possibility of attending the event!  So many amazing people supported me when I was a student, and I am grateful and delighted that IMPACTS will be paying it forward in this way. Please help spread the word!

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Generation Y, Graduate school, Leadership, Museums, Technology, The Future Leave a comment

Barriers to Adopting Social Media: Creating Buy-In

(or, Why Your Organization Needs Social Media)

Last week, I identified buy-in as one of the four biggest barriers to change in inspiring institutions to embrace social strategies. And it makes sense that this is a barrier for change; why should an institution invest time and energy into social media if they aren’t aware of the benefits? The good news is that buy-in is a breakable barrier.

Buy-in is important on all levels when transitioning an organization to take on social strategies and online communications. The formula for change addresses important elements in tackling employee and colleague buy-in. However, for many marketing and communications directors with their pulse on social technology, the real obstacle is obtaining buy-in from the head-hanchos. That’s not always easy. In fact, some of the best ideas about social strategies are bound to come from employees working with visitors on the ground because it’s been found that, when it comes to large scale-change (like catching onto the social media revolution), the front-line folks see it first.

Here’s the bottom line: Social media contributes to both of your organization’s bottom lines. That is, (1) the economic needs of the institution, and (2) the social mission to inspire and educate.

 

1) Social media helps keep the lights on in a big way:

  1. Word of mouth marketing through social media and earned media are worth more than paid advertising efforts. Marketers may be familiar with the Bass Model. This model is based upon the coefficient of innovation (paid advertising and marketing) and the coefficient of imitation (word of mouth marketing, including social and earned media). According to the model, the initial sale of something depends on the number of people interested in the product (innovation). However, later sales are dependent upon the number of folks drawn to the product after seeing their friends and acquaintances use it (imitation). In the theory, innovation (q) has a value that is often less than 0.01, while imitation (p) has been found to have a value between 0.3 and 0.5. In other words, word of mouth marketing is over ten times more important than paid advertising in terms of driving sales. 
  2.  

  3. Social media contributes to your brand’s reputation, and reputation is a main driver of attendance. Studies have shown that online communities are increasingly important for brand management and are often more important than your website. You likely wouldn’t think of  taking down your website because it’s one of the best ways for potential visitors to learn about the organization. However, social media and online interactions are stealing this spotlight, and it’s worth investing time and money in these social endeavours. Moreover, social media enhances reputation because it increases the perceived value of a product.
  4.  

Social media increases your word-of-mouth reputation, garnering attention and inspiring visitation. Thus, social media increases attendance (and donations). It does this in two, important and related ways:

  • By creating connections that are unique to your institution. Social media provides the opportunity to create a personality for the organization and connect to individuals on a personal level. Because social media platforms are (should be!) always in seemingly-transparent dialogue with fans and followers, these potential visitors have constant sneak peeks into operations. Social media allows folks to feel like insiders who are personally connected to museum happenings. This makes your institution unique to individuals and not “just another visitor-serving organization.” Instead of just a place to see a generic X (say, an original manuscript). It makes that generic X meaningful, and your museum is the only place in which that particular entity exists.
  • By securing earned media. Earned media is a gold star in the world of word of mouth marketing. Earned media is media that your institution does not pay for. For instance, a mommy blogger writing a blog post about her terrific day at the museum is earned media. It is a high-propensity visitor sharing his/her experiences with their network, who are also likely to be the kind of high-propensity visitors that your organization is targeting. In the mommy blogger example, this free agent is spreading the museum’s message on her blog, and her blog is likely read by other mommy bloggers, increasing the odds of securing visitors. But not all earned media is organic and spread by visitors. Social media also helps put operations in front of members of the media who may contribute to earned media by writing or reporting about the organization. Here’s a related little tip: thank your free evangelists.

By these same processes, social media aids in building and igniting donor relationships. As every fundraiser knows, building personal connections to an organization is critical for securing donations, and social media helps do just that. On social platforms, dialogue with an organization continues long after visits take place. Social media provides an opportunity to engage potential donors and inspire ongoing connections. Once they’ve contributed, social media helps keep donors and members posted on an organization’s great works, ensuring them that funds are used wisely and that the organization is continuing to cultivate community involvement.

 

2) Achieving the organization’s mission of educating and inspiring communities

Social media doesn’t just help keep the lights on; it helps organizations fulfill their missions. Informal learning environments often have the mission of educating and inspiring communities. Social media helps by providing an opportunity to:

  • Educate- These YouTube videos are creating a one-of-a-kind connection with the institution (and the people working there) that will end up elevating reputation. In real-time, they are presenting engaging content in a fun and informational way.
  • Transcend location and taking the mission home- Traditionally, we think of museums and cultural centers as places that are exculsively “place-based.” However, with the development of social media and creative engagement, museums are more than just buildings full of objects… They are accessible everywhere. You can learn from an organization and be inspired through computers, mobile phones, ipads, and podcasts. With the focus taken off of location, audiences can integrate organizations easily into their everyday lives, keeping the institution “top-of-mind” and building brand trust and transparency.
  • Reach new audiences- Generation Y has terrific engagement potential, and this audiences is most easily accessed through social media. Moreover, they are accessed on a personal level through social media. To say that having a social strategy will put you ahead of the game with this demographic (and future generations), however, is a lie. Social media is critical for reaching folks of the future—and folks right now. And if you’re not doing it well (or trying to), then you’re already outta the game. As a side, social media doesn’t just appeal to Generation Y. Know a few folks who say that they aren’t involved with social media because of their older age? Studies show that they are lying; one in four Americans over the age of 65 have an account on a social media platform.

 

Social media is critical to a visitor-serving organization’s everyday operations, as well as its long-term goals. It will be increasingly harder to educate, inspire, fundraise, and even keep the lights on without embracing social media and related social strategies.

What would you add to this? What are other but-in inspiring reasons why innovative social media is an organizational necessity? Please share your input below.

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Generation Y, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future 2 Comments

A Theory for Breaking Through Nonprofit Sector Constraints

It seems that, without even knowing it, we’re all working together to limit nonprofit innovation.

In the nonprofit sector, risk (an important element in innovation) is stifled due to nonprofits’ need for multiple stakeholder acceptance in order to survive. This makes large-scale change difficult, if not impossible, and the only way that we will solve this is if we put our minds together to think about it.

Let’s take the hot topic of increasing salaries for nonprofit leaders (though we could pick any topic that challenges perceived sector constraints). A nonprofit might seriously consider higher salaries in order to attract high-quality leaders, establish itself professionally, or ensure that competition for the position allows the organization to choose– or continue to motivate– the best candidate for the job.  This could be a great idea. It could work wonders. But questioning sector constraints at all is often much like trying to give a big hug to a hand grenade. Here’s why:

  1. The board and staff will need to approve this risk. In the case of increasing employee salaries, they will consider that every extra dollar given to a staff member is a dollar that could be spent on programming. These immediate stakeholders must believe in the potential of the idea.
  2. Then the nonprofit will have to face the multiple foundations that may no longer award the nonprofit otherwise-much-deserved grants because their administrative costs exceed (or come close to) a percentage set by the foundation in advance.
  3. You have to face the people who don’t understand why you made this change (regardless of its nobility), and the media may tear you apart. Even worse, other nonprofit leaders at The Chronicle of Philanthropy may even give you bad press for trying to take a risk to aid in sector evolution.
  4. Your amount of in-kind donations over the year may suffer because of the bad press– which defeats your whole attempt at innovation because you can no longer afford to pay a higher-than-before salary to your employees… so you are back where you started– but with fewer funds, a lot of bad press, alienated foundation connections, and unhappy employees.

In the private sector, innovation breeds new business practices and monetary success. The system is quite simple: a firm must gather capital to take a risk, take that risk, and if the company makes a profit, they are onto something. Other companies catch onto the company’s new tactic and next thing we know, every company has to be doing that innovative thing in order to continue to stay in the game. The same is true for nonprofit organizations except, in the nonprofit sector, raising capital may mean raising social capital.

 

Please click on the image to enlarge

So what can be done to alter sector constraints in order to allow nonprofit professionals to be innovative in organizational management?

First, double loop learning must take place. Double loop learning occurs when leaders question their own basic assumptions about the world. Single loop learning, by comparison, is the tried-and-tested routine that we fall into when we do everyday things like write grants and conduct meetings– but we also use single loop learning when we devise wages (continuing with the case of nonprofit salaries as our example). We have an idea of what works and we stick to it. Double loop learning, on the other hand, makes us ask ourselves, “Why do we do X? Maybe I should be doing Y.” When we ask this question, possibilities are born.

Second, the nonprofit must be transparent about their new idea and share it among networks. The nonprofit could ask for input via social media networks, get dialogues going with staff members; make everyone (stakeholders especially) aware of the possible benefit of taking this risk. This includes spreading word about the importance of innovation among stakeholders, the public, and other nonprofit groups. Technology is a great mechanism for information-share, and getting brain juices flowing. Who knows? A few other nonprofits may consider the idea and try it out alongside you.

Through this, social capital is created. Spreading the message creates connections. Asking people for their input (even if it’s negative) creates connections. Connections build social capital. Social capital increases overall support of the new practice because friends and community partners can share your idea with their own networks, and become part of idea formation and collaboration.

Then intellectual capital is built as stakeholders become educated on the issue. The more people hear about the issue, the more educated they will become on the need for innovation, or rather, the more accepting they will be when you actually follow through in challenging sector constraints. Lets go back to the example of a nonprofit taking on higher administration costs to motivate employees. If we learn that there’s a nonprofit leadership deficit on the way, then we may be more likely to outwardly encourage and support (or at least understand) nonprofits that are raising employee salaries.

And finally, the innovation is accepted. This does not mean that people will agree with your new (hopefully) innovative practice– but, because of your transparency, they will fully understand why you have challenged sector constraints, and also that you have the best interests of the community you serve at heart. And whether they agree with the idea or not, folks may be more inclined to respect the idea. Foundations may still award grants to the organization, and donors may stick around for at least another year. Who knows? Maybe your active desire to contribute to the sector and your fresh views of management will earn you a few more donors.

This theory is just that: a theory. I do not know how to encourage nonprofits to take responsible risks and challenge constraints that hold them back in serving their mission. I do know that, if the sector means to evolve, nonprofit leaders must begin to think about blazing new trails— and we should think about ways to allow them to do so.

Posted on by colleendilen in Leadership, Management, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, The Future 6 Comments