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May 20, 2012

Social entrepreneurship a tool for nonprofits

Earlier this week, I was a member of a panel that conducted telephone interviews with candidates competing for a position with a small not-for-profit in Ireland that was recruiting a leader capable of creating a culture of innovation within their organization.

No mean feat.

I admire the organization for recognizing the need to be more innovative in serving its clients. They know they need to be in order to compete with other organizations vying for a constantly shrinking pool of Euro dollars. The organization recognizes that not only to survive, but also to thrive, means to be in a constant state of evolution. It's the only way to stay at the head of the pack.

In preparing for the interviews, I reviewed the interview questions and then began drafting responses based on how I would answer; in other words, the perfect responses. Not really, but I did begin thinking seriously about what "innovation" meant and how a person could go about creating a corporate culture based on innovation in a not-for-profit organization. More importantly, I thought about where a culture of innovation might lead an organization.

I have colleagues who argue that innovation in the not-for-profit sector is unnecessary. The more enlightened among us argue the opposite, that innovation in the not-for-profit is essential because not-for-profits lack the resources and cash flow of private sector firms. For starters, a not-for-profit needs to be innovative in expanding its reach, in its mission delivery and in utilizing its resources.

Most importantly, a not-for-profit needs to be innovative in finding ways to generate new revenue, but more about that later.

However, let's back the innovation bus up and talk about what we mean by "innovation." There is no one agreed-upon definition, but for me, innovation is about adaptation and change. It's about evolution. It's about what's new and what's next. It's about challenging long-held assumptions. It's about moving into uncharted territory.

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