How to Get Leadership Buy-In for Your Innovative Ideas

Contrary to popular belief, ideas in and of themselves are not particularly valuable. Thousands of great ideas are born every day but very few ever come to life. Why? Implementation, that’s the hard part. It’s what separates an idea from an innovation.

In some ways, we all have to sell our innovative ideas. Development teams have to get buy-in from senior leaders. Senior leaders have to get buy-in from C-level executives. Even nonprofit leaders have to get buy in from their boards.

So how can you make innovation sharing more fruitful and effective for both parties—the idea seller and the decision maker? Here are some suggestions...

How to Sell Your Innovative Idea to Your Organization’s Decision Makers

The Harvard Business Review article “Get the Boss to Buy In” provides tips to help managers sell their ideas. These tips translate directly to the nonprofit world.

If you’re a fundraising professional, here’s how to get buy-in for your innovative ideas so you can bring them to life:

1. Tailor your pitch – Who are you pitching your idea to? What are their goals, values and knowledge? How can you make the idea speak to them?

2. Frame the issue – How does your idea support a strategic organizational goal? How does it fit into the big picture?

3. Manage emotions on both sides – Make sure you present your idea with a positive emotion (like passion) and aim to inspire the decision maker by focusing on benefits and actions.

4. Get the timing rightWhen you present your idea is almost as important as how. Look for opportunities to tie your idea with trends or other efforts within the organization.

5. Involve others – Building a team and establishing a plan can show your idea has internal support and help get it off the ground quicker.

6. Adhere to norms – Understand and respect the process of how decisions are made. Provide the information decision makers want in the manner they prefer it.

7. Suggest your solution – Don’t just point out a flaw or problem, propose a solution; or present a plan to find a solution to the problem.

How to Create a Culture of Innovation within Your Nonprofit

On the flip side, it’s important for nonprofit leaders to create a culture where individuals feel comfortable (and encouraged) in sharing new ideas.

The McKinsey article “Leadership and Innovation” looks at the gap between innovation aspirations and the ability to execute, and provides these practical steps:

1. Define the kind of innovation that drives growth and helps meet strategic objectives. Point your team in the right direction to help them focus their ideas. Let them know what your strategic organizational goals are so they can concentrate on creating new ideas that will impact them.

2. Add innovation to the formal agenda at regular leadership meetings. Provide a forum for people to share and discuss new ideas. This will encourage leaders to push for new ideas and send a clear message that you are open to and interested in hearing them.

3. Set performance metrics and targets for innovation. Tell people what you want innovation to accomplish. Typically this will fall into two categories: financial (increasing funds raised) or behavioral (improving efficiency). Examples include increasing donor retention by 10% (financial) or finding smart ways to increase employee productivity by 15% (behavioral).

Put a Process in Place to Streamline Idea Sharing Across the Organization

Does your organization have an innovation process in place? Do people know how to share new ideas? Do people feel comfortable sharing new ideas?

In order for nonprofit organizations to build a strong culture of innovation, there needs to be a strong passion and desire to innovate from top to bottom and processes in place to facilitate the sharing and implementation of new ideas. That’s the best recipe for continued innovation and long-term success.

What are some lessons you’ve learned when it comes to getting buy in for your ideas? How have you worked to create a culture where innovation is embraced?

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