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When it comes to innovation, nonprofits have typically been two to three years behind mainstream organizations and industries. Take social media as an example. Many nonprofits are just now beginning to integrate social networks into their fundraising efforts. Digital marketing is another example. Most nonprofit websites and online marketing strategies are not tapping their full potential—at least not like Apple or Coca-Cola.

The Law of Diffusion of Innovation

The law of diffusion of innovation explains how an innovation moves from introduction to mainstream adoption. It travels a bell curve that starts with innovators and early adopters, crosses the tipping point to reach the early majority, and finally gets embraced by the late majority and laggards.

Generally speaking, on the diffusion of innovation bell curve, nonprofits tend to fall into the “late majority” or “laggards” categories compared to organizations in other industries. Innovations do not typically emerge from the nonprofit sector, but rather are adopted by organizations two or three years down the line.

Steps Your Nonprofit Can Take to Become an Innovator

How can nonprofits break the model, move closer to the front of the bell curve, and stay on the forefront of innovation? Here are three tips to get started:

  1. Surround yourself with innovative thinkers. Get outside of the nonprofit bubble. Read books, magazines, and blogs discussing the latest trends in the for-profit industry. Ask yourself, “How can we adapt and apply these ideas to the nonprofit world?”
  2. Be proactive about testing new strategies and ideas. The beauty of testing is that it gives you the freedom to try new things with minimal risk. Take advantage of that freedom. Don’t be afraid to test out new ideas and don’t be discouraged if 99 percent of them fail. The one percent of successful ideas can have a big impact.
  3. Create a culture where new ideas are embraced rather than met with opposition. Debate is healthy. It’s good to discuss pros and cons. But don’t get so caught up in debate and naysaying that people are discouraged from sharing. Cultivate a spirit of innovation in your staff and board where people are encouraged to share new ideas.
Take Action to Make Innovation an Organizational Priority

Innovation doesn’t just come along on its own. It requires a hospitable environment and a team of people driven to make it happen. By creating a culture where innovation is valued, encouraged, and implemented, you can get ahead of the curve and become an industry leader—energizing and inspiring your staff, supporters, and the entire nonprofit community.