A colleague of mine recently forwarded a query from a funder that was looking to be more innovative in its grantmaking. This funder asked several questions of colleagues, such as: How many grantmaking staff do you have? How many grant cycles do you conduct each year? Do you offer grants for programs? Operations? Capacity building? As I considered this list, I confess I grew a bit frustrated. The person asking the questions was truly interested in being innovative, but the questions were all wrong. They were confined to the realm of what’s “normal” and what’s currently happening, rather than what was possible or wildly different. In addition, he’d only asked other funders, not anyone outside the field. Not surprisingly, the … Continue reading Shouting into the Mouth of a Cave
1. Don’t innovate for innovation’s sake. All efforts at innovation should be in pursuit of a compelling reason. Further, that compelling reason should align with a foundation’s mission and vision. While funding a new app may sound fun, if the new app doesn’t directly impact an audience or issue you’ve targeted, leave it to someone else. 2. Innovation doesn’t have to be a big deal. Effective innovations can be small but brilliant internal changes. For example, redefining a grant process with the grantee in mind instead of staff. It can also be as simple as an effort to shift perspective and look at your work from the outside in. 3. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Funders who innovate almost … Continue reading Innovation and Philanthropy: It Doesn’t Have to be Complicated!
The word “innovation” is ubiquitous in philanthropy. It’s a concept that few foundations have defined, yet many are eager to fund. No surprise, then, that foundations often request “innovative ideas” from their grantees but fail to accomplish the same thing internally. When a funder doesn’t create a clear definition of innovation or understanding of how to build its own innovation muscle, the implied assumption is that innovation “just happens.” This creates several problems: Because few funders have defined what they mean by innovation, they have difficulty communicating their expectation to grantseekers. The onus of innovation is almost always on the grantees and rarely on funders themselves. Funders give little to no thought about how they expect grantees to be innovative. … Continue reading What Does Innovation Mean?
“Innovation” is one of those terms with many connotations, so it’s important to consider what you mean when you use it in your philanthropy. If you don’t have a clear definition, it leaves the onus to define and deliver innovation completely up to others, or it implies that innovation is something that “just happens.” Further, lack of clear definition has come to imply that innovation must be a dramatic, game-changing, disruptive new idea or practice: the iPhone of early childhood education, the Post-It note of economic development. Funders give little or no thought to how they expect grantees to be innovative – they certainly don’t help provide technical assistance or capacity support to help achieve innovation. And while everyone wants to … Continue reading Innovation is for Everyone
I am a recent user and fan of Uber, a new app that allows you to immediately find a car service, visually track the car, communicate with the driver, and pay remotely. It’s easy, reliable, fast, and consumer-driven. I think philanthropy leaders can learn from Uber about how to innovate for greater impact. It’s all about taking a standard practice we take for granted, turning it on its head, and radically improving the customer experience. That’s what Uber did. We’ve all stood on street corners watching taxi after taxi drive by, wondering when and if one would ever become available. Uber took the obvious (a stressful, risky, and inefficient mode of transportation) and created a radically different customer experience (you select … Continue reading Uber Philanthropy