3 Examples of Successful Nonprofit Innovation

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More than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations are registered in the U.S., according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics. Millions more operate around the world, and they may all be competing for the donations of altruistic community members and stakeholders. With so much competition, clever innovations, like the three outlined below, can help nonprofits stand out and stay relevant.

The ALS Association: Capitalizing on Ideas

Image via Flickr by AFGE

The ALS Association showed what can be done when individuals seize opportunities. Consider the Ice Bucket Challenge, an awareness campaign designed to fund research for those with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, according to Fast Company. This movement was actually the brainchild of ALS patients and their supporters, notes Fast Company. However, the ALS Association saw the potential for the unusual initiative and promoted it.

Some professionals with a Master of Science in Management degree may not see the value of advertising a movement that asked people to douse themselves with ice water and not give generously. Yet, staff within the organization saw the movement as an opportunity to raise awareness, according to Fast Company. The ALS Association hoped that by bringing the organization’s name into the public sphere donations would follow, and those donations did. Fast Company reports that the Ice Bucket Challenge helped The ALS Association raise more than $100 million in 30 days.

The Rockefeller Foundation: Harnessing Social Innovation Labs

Few nonprofits may enjoy the wealth of The Rockefeller Foundation. In efforts to stay relevant, The Rockefeller Foundation began using social innovation labs in 2013, according to Amira Bliss, senior program associate for The Rockefeller Foundation. These revolutionary global intelligence units identify projects that need help and decide whether the Rockefeller Foundation can make a difference in those projects. Only a handful of ideas make it to the development stage where they are test-funded to assess the nonprofit’s usefulness, according to The Rockefeller Foundation.

The Rockefeller Foundation has partnered with six social innovation labs located around the world. The organization states that it has made a sizable investment of $16 million into these labs to date, according to its website.

Direct Relief: Open Data Assists Ebola Aid Efforts

Open data is typically used by government agencies and tech firms, and may not often be embraced by the nonprofit sector. Direct Relief, however, saw the potential for this type of data, using information during the 2014 Ebola crisis. The nonprofit group began mapping the spread of Ebola cases in April 2014 using open data taken from World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sources and its partners, according to Direct Relief’s website. Its maps helped track virus movements, allowing the organization to know where to target its early supply shipments, according to Direct Relief. As Ebola cases mounted, the maps helped Direct Relief identify Ebola hotspots and places where aid hadn’t reached.

Direct Relief stated that this innovative use of mapping helped the organization perform its job better. The nonprofit also indicated that mapping provided the tangible evidence needed to assure stakeholders their donations were doing good.

While nonprofits may feel pressured to stand out in a crowded marketplace, creative strategies such as those described here can give charitable organizations a competitive edge.