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In his “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” TED Talk, Simon Sinek explains the “law of diffusion of innovation” by drawing a bell curve and positioning these groups on the curve based on when they embrace innovation:

Sinek says of the laggards: “The only reason these people buy touchtone phones is because they can’t buy rotary phones anymore.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to adopting innovative solutions common in the for-profit industry most nonprofits would be considered “late-majority” or “laggards.” Too many nonprofits are still stuck on using those rotary phones. Why is this?

Why Nonprofits Lag Behind When It Comes to Embracing Innovation

Here’s why the majority of nonprofit organizations tend to fall at the end of the innovation curve:

1. Many nonprofit leaders are dealing with limited time and resources.

Because of this, nonprofits can’t adapt fast enough. For example: Peer-to-peer fundraising events have become increasingly less profitable. The novelty has worn off and competition has increased, but organizations aren’t sure what they can do to adapt. Most nonprofits just don’t have the available personnel and expertise to develop innovative solutions on their own.

2. Investing in experimentation isn’t culturally “acceptable.”

The nonprofit industry has an establishment in place that keeps it from being innovative. While donors want and need transparency, the watchdogs who monitor our industry aren’t bent towards investing to funding new and innovative ways to fund our mission.The idea has somehow taken root that investing in the future is a bad thing for nonprofits.

3. It’s counterintuitive for nonprofits to take risks.

Doing new things requires some degree of risk. As we all know, most nonprofits are pretty risk averse. Instead, the nonprofit industry favors a copycat model. That’s not always bad thing—it’s smart to use proven practices—but when old-and-tired efforts start to produce old-and-tired results, change becomes a necessity for survival.

Look to the Future with Your Fundraising Efforts

Change is coming at us quicker today than ever before. That’s why innovation is more important to nonprofits than ever before.

Sure, you want to continue to nurture the fundraising efforts that are delivering you results—but you also don’t want to be “dead in the water” when those efforts run out of gas. That’s why you need to be constantly testing and implementing new and innovative methods of reaching people.   

Take an honest look at your nonprofit and ask:

  • Does your organization have a culture that is averse to risk-taking?
  • What are some areas where your fundraising is currently faltering?
  • Are you investing in experimentation to pave the path for future fundraising success?
  • Who are some other nonprofit leaders you admire who are running fearlessly toward the future?

I’d love to know your answer to some of these questions in the comments below…