The Future of Nonprofits, post-Rapture

Now that the Rapture has been postponed again for a few more years, I offer a short reflection on my past as a way to introduce comments about a book on the future. 

In 1997, after being a member of the founding management team of a company that was sold the previous year for $350 million, I was offered the job of CEO of the Central Texas chapter of Easter Seals.

What followed was an amazing, life-altering year for me that was richly rewarding, professionally and personally, and that provided me a new, deeper understanding of community, some of which I cover in my own, most recent book.

As I left to return to industry, after a year at the helm, the regional vice president assigned from the national Easter Seals office to our organization called the changes in our chapter the “greatest one-year turnaround” he had ever seen.

I offer this example, because in many respects, the key to our team’s success at Easter Seals – and, trust me, it was a team effort, from bottom to top – was through the core message of the new book The Future of Nonprofits (which you can buy on my Amazon store), written by an Austin colleague, David Neff, and his co-author Randal Moss.  That message? Innovate!

If we had kept going down the same path and resisted innovation at Easter Seals nearly 15 years ago, we would have been bankrupt within 6 months. Likewise, my personal sense of many organizations – frankly, a belief I consider as true for for-profits, as it is for non-profits – is that their lack of commitment to innovation is at the heart of the struggle and decline many face.

Thus, as I scanned The Future of Nonprofits, I was particularly looking for practical guidance on creating and sustaining organizational commitment to innovation. My personal experience is that for innovation to succeed, there are three essential ingredients, above all else

  • Leadership that is equally committed to success and encouraging better ways of doing things
  • A strong, clear understanding of mission and the customers that are served
  • An urgent, constant push to seek collaboration, wherever it strengthens the organization’s mission

With that personal bias in mind, these were a few of the highlight sections for me from the book:

  • Innovation as a strategic business tool, pp. 50-52 – excerpt: “growth comes in a few forms…income, cost, and revenue” – true that!
  • The innovation development process, pp. 113-115 and pp. 153-154 – the steps are essentially duplicated in two different forms, but the bottom-line, in this reviewer’s opinion, is that this is the kernel of any sequel to The Future of Nonprofits
  • The future of communications, Chapter 10 – this is where the authors especially shine…they are pros at explaining technology and providing practical suggestions for implementing it, for large and small non-profits alike
  • Organization innovation quiz, Appendix 2 – there are some great questions in his appendix that, if honestly and objectively applied, provide everyone a good starting (or check) point for being more innovative

My view is that the strongest sections of the book are also the most time-dependent, in that they provide real, current guidance about the tools, measurements, and methods that are available to integrate into a non-profit’s programs,  right now in May 2011.

That’s why I’d encourage anyone interested in the subject to sign up for their newsletter on the book’s website or keep an eye on their Facebook page, so that you’ll get a steady stream of updates from a couple of the bright minds in non-profit innovation.