June 8, 2009

Applying Rule 1 of Twitter’s Ten Rules For Radical [NONPROFIT] Innovators: Always stay Focused on Your Mission – Part 1: Thinking About Social Enterprise

Nonprofits are businesses too, and there are many great resources from the for-profit world that our sector should draw on and adapt to our sector’s unique circumstances.  The blogs of  Harvard Business Publishing are one source of insightful ideas on management, leadership, career development, and innovation that I do my best to keep up with.

I read a very interesting post by Umair Haque, Director of  Havas Media Lab on how Twitter is defining how organizations can radically innovate, and it occurs to me that this fits well with many conversations that Providers’ Council members have been having on how we can transform our sector.  Over the coming weeks I’ll be taking a closer look at how the nonprofit sector can apply Haque’s Twitter’s Ten Rules For Radical Innovators to our sector.

In this flagship post for me I hope you’ll get a sense of how we can draw on sources outside of our sector for new ideas and come away with some new insight on the importance of considering your organization’s mission in the decisions you make and the way it interacts with the public.

The message of rule #1 “Ideals beat strategies” is that part of Twitter’s success comes from pursuing “its ideals — democracy, peace, equity — with the quiet intensity of a true revolutionary” rather than focusing on profit.”

When considering this in the nonprofit sector my mind first went to a recent panel discussion and breakout session on nonprofit innovation that the Providers’ Council held at our Annual Member Meeting.  One major theme from the day’s conversations was the importance of a nonprofit’s social enterprise being able to connect with its mission.  Here’s a quick excerpt from the summary I wrote about the discussion

[Lyndia] Downie, President & CEO of the Pine Street Inn discussed two examples in particular that helped her agency save and even generate revenue, while building collaborative partnerships with other agencies.  The first example Downie shared was her agency’s decision to use the infrastructure the Inn’s kitchen already had in place to prepare meals that could be sold to smaller agencies.  Because the Inn already had the equipment, staff, and talent for  preparing 2,000 meals for their guests, this revenue generator was a natural extension of their existing mission and operations.

Interestingly,  Seven Hills Foundation President/CEO David Jordan shared that his organization makes equity investments in businesses to generate dollars that his organization can put to use in advancing its mission – serving their clients.  With all of our conversations around social enterprises needing to fit the nonprofit’s mission and/or operations, this was an interesting reminder that with the right skill sets (ex: investing), there may be other new and effective ways for diversifying nonprofit revenue streams – however incongruous with Rule #1.

Or, perhaps there’s a distinction to be made between consumer/donor-driven endeavors (enterprises, communications, and the public face of an organization) and the the potential innovation and revenue diversification that nonprofits can pursue at an investment level.

Here are two more examples of what human service providers are already doing to innovate the way they deliver care and generate revenue…

What have been your greatest lessons in nonprofit innovation?

Do you have interesting examples to share?

Is your nonprofit generating revenue in a way that also advances its ideals?

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