Socially Responsible Innovation Part Three: Non-Profits

Wooden red heart in cupped hands.
Non-profits need to keep their mission at the heart of innovation.

Socially responsible innovation is often the mandate of a non-profit. Yet, despite this, organizing and implementing innovation, especially in partnership with governments and for-profit companies, can present unexpected needs and challenges. 

In the final part of our three-part series on socially responsible innovation, we explore the challenge non-profits face, and how they can best be overcome.

Detailed Approaches

Most non-profits start with a distinct advantage, as they were founded with a specific goal in mind. However, a goal has no point unless you have a path to it. Non-profits often need to develop multiple detailed approaches to their goals that reflect their resources, team members, and other needs. This will help with collaboration and give efforts more focus, and make their approaches more flexible.

It can also help with specific needs that may not be visible otherwise. Say, for example, you develop a product with a for-profit entity. Who owns the product? If the product is sold elsewhere, is the revenue divided, and in what proportion? Who holds the right to the product and the research behind it? Your mission will help guide the answers to these questions.

Research

Any non-profit has heard stories of how an organization approaches them with the best of intentions, only for those intentions to go awry. This makes research and coordination particularly crucial, especially if you’re considering partnerships in your social innovation approach. Be clear with your partners on what information you need and why.

Remember that this applies to governments as well as private entities. Depending on your mission, you may need to request more details from the government, as well as ask to be informed of other approaches, impending policy decisions, and other matters.

Circle of wooden human figures.
How can innovation embrace everyone?

Engagement

Non-profits have another advantage in that engagement with the communities they serve are built into their mission. However, this can be a challenge with innovation as some communities may question why they’re the ones who need the innovation, or may be concerned about potential impacts if an innovation program falls short. Engaging with the community and ensuring they’re part of the process will mitigate these concerns.

This also brings a degree of risk, especially if trust has been carefully built. Make that level of risk clear to partners and internal committees alike.

Accountability

Non-profits sit between corporate and governmental organizations in terms of who they’re accountable to and why. Depending on your structure, you may need to clear an approach with a board, or you may need to discuss the situation with donors or even other non-profits. Before launching any program, look carefully at what’s needed for your leadership to engage with the project, and what you may be asking from them. Make sure all partners are briefed on your internal accountability approaches as well, and what you may request from them.

Socially responsible innovation is fundamental to achieving your non-profit’s goals. To learn more about innovation from this perspective, read parts one and two of our three-part series. And to learn more about innovation in the non-profit world, join our newsletter!

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