I hesitate to even mention the word innovation. It is so quickly applied—to a mission statement, a description of a program, an approach to program delivery, to social entrepreneurship—when used often enough, it becomes meaningless.
Innovation is about doing an old thing in a new way. It is about creating a new way to do something new, or a new way to do something better.
The problem is we’re uncomfortable with new. We’re uncomfortable with new processes, new approaches. We’re uncomfortable with measuring the results we achieve, for fear they do not measure up to the board’s (and our supporter’s) expectations.
A high-performing nonprofit needs to be innovative, and dare be disruptive, in the manner in which it chooses to communicate. It must seek ways to disrupt the expectations of supporters, surprise its funders, and illuminate the outcomes of its work to new audiences. Here’s how that might look:
- Be focused on your outcomes. With clarity of focus comes a clear path to the impact you need to be communicating about.
- Put communications first. Create a communication plan achievable within your resources. Stick to it and execute on it.
Think beyond branding
- Recognize your cause is not a brand, and your nonprofit is the voice for the cause. Think about your purpose, character and culture— the beliefs, values and actions that create your organization’s identity.
- Begin with the premise that all communications are donor communications. Nonprofits are challenged to find the resources to project a professional image and communicate with a clear voice. More impact in fundraising, organizational sustainability, and cause awareness will be achieved when there is a commitment to investing in communications.
Put communications first
- Use design to close the (communication) gap between your work and the stories of your work. The role of design is to be disruptive, to interrupt, and gain the attention of the audience.
- Just because everybody else is doing it, doesn’t mean the approach is right for your organization.
Creating a culture of communication and innovation where one does not exist, or is just beginning to form, will take time. Begin with what you can do today—and one day, one person at a time—you’ll be quietly disruptive, and nurture your own culture of innovation.
Brian Sooy is a business owner, design professional, author, and speaker. He is the founder of Aespire, (pronounced “aspire”), a design consultancy that empowers mission-driven organizations to create purpose-driven culture, design with purpose, and communicate with clarity. Brian has over 30 years of experience in design and marketing with private and social sector organizations. He is the author of Raise Your Voice: A Cause Manifesto, a book that explores a framework for understanding how your purpose, character, culture, and unique voice empower you to communicate to the outcomes you are working to achieve.