Technology Innovation – Not just for businesses anymore
Innovation is an attribute of companies and individuals that is highly lauded across the spectrum of activities. Last year, at the passing of Steve Jobs, the obits rightfully pointed to his legacy of technical and artistic achievement as they discussed his life and work. What always impressed me was his ability to sacrifice a currently successful product and its design for what he knew needed to be the next big thing. The term “creative destruction” grew popularity due to that kind of forward thinking. Innovation and creative destruction have been the means to the end of so much of the standard of living the world sees today.
In the world of business today technology is business and business is technology. Frankly, one can’t exist today without the other. The dry cleaners down the street even has sophisticated inventory systems. I can now track my Domino’s Pizza order on my smartphone and your car can drive/think for you based upon the conditions of the road. It’s pretty amazing.
When I say in the title, ‘Not just for businesses anymore”, I’m being a bit tongue in cheek, but I don’t think I’m over-stating the fact that many business leaders, who consider themselves ‘innovators’, do not consider the nonprofit/NGO sectors as enormous centers of technological innovation. That thinking couldn’t be more wrong, but it seems that not many know it or see it.
I’ll repeat that statement a different way…many business leaders out there today, and you know them since they probably sit on your board or committees, don’t believe they see an enormity of technological innovation in our sector. The reality is, as I see it, that technological innovation is happening every day. The pace of it is even quickening as we speak.
The disconnect between the perceived and actual technological innovation that these business leaders see in our sector is the gap between organizations that use technology as a tactic in order to fundraise, connect, and deliver on their mission and those that use technology as a strategic advantage.
What are the reasons the innovation that is out there isn’t making it into the organizations in a strategic way?
Why aren’t more companies being even more innovative to push the nonprofit market further?
Is it just plain market awareness? Is it cost? Is it a cultural change management question at our organizations? Is it the decision-making processes involved? Is it lack of vision? Could it be too much vision and not enough execution?
As with any complex issue the answer is also complex.
However, two points can be distilled out of it all -
- The Vendor Side - Our sector is a difficult one for a vendor to sell into as it is a fragmented and segmented marketplace which contains executives who, when compared to their for-profit counterparts, are more focused on many other concerns, and rightfully so, other than technology usage.
- The Nonprofit Organization View - The marketplace of vendors selling into the nonprofit space has grown exponentially and become more diffused over the last decade. The choices, and how to make the right ones for your organization, are infinitely harder and more confusing than ever.
It’s understandable that being an expert in tech solutions may not be priority one for most nonprofit executives and our vendors don’t always do the best job of creating strategic solutions instead of tactical tools. However, it’s time for us to change that on both sides of the equation and make sure that innovation commands the day to make each side better.
It’s time to recognize that strategic technology usage is a core part to mission delivery. Focusing on Return on Mission instead of Return on Investment allows us all, vendor and nonprofit alike, to see innovative technology solutions for what they are: enablers of effective mission delivery and social impact.
A growing number of organizations that view technology as a strategic advantage to deliver their mission are becoming the norm, but we have a long way to go. Go see Invisible Children, CharityWater, Heifer Project International, or American Rescue Committee as examples of organizations that use technology strategically to deliver on their mission. They aren’t alone as numerous small organizations here in Austin and in your community do the same on their own scale.
As important as it is for vendors, new and old alike, to get the word out the best they can about the value of their products it is also incumbent on the leaders at organizations of all sizes to think about technology in strategic and innovative ways to better enable their missions. The innovation in our sector is there and ready for the taking.
Let those out there who think we don’t have technological innovation in our sector know that we absolutely do by putting it to use in ways that are innovative and unique for your organization. Let them know that our nonprofit leaders and vendors are leading the way on new innovation that will help us serve our missions better, be more efficient in our unique business processes, and be better stewards of our donor dollars.