Category Archives: Leadership
July 30, 2012, 4:57 pm
To tackle problems in a rapidly changing world, nonprofits need to adopt a new mind-set, one that emphasizes improvisation, ad hoc networks, and adaptation, says Andrew Zolli, executive director of PopTech, a New York charity focused on innovation, and co-author of a new book, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back.
Because the world has entered a period of “extraordinary volatility” and the problems society faces are increasingly complex, he argues, figuring out why some individuals, organizations, and systems are resilient in the aftermath of a crisis while others are not is paramount.
“We’re all ballroom dancing in the minefield,” says Mr. Zolli. “In an environment like that, we have to be able to prepare our companies, our communities, our organizations to be able to deal with those disruptions. And that is a different agenda that we have had, even in the recent…
July 6, 2012, 10:27 am
Nonprofits need to get a lot better at asking clients what they think — and acting on the information they receive, says Peter York, director of research for TCC Group, a management-consulting company that advises charities.
Information from beneficiaries can help organizations improve their programs and spark new ideas for fighting tough problems. For real-world examples of charities using client feedback to strengthen their programs, read an opinion piece from The Chronicle’s current issue.
Too often, nonprofits are uncomfortable asking clients what they think about programs and fail to appreciate the value of their feedback, argues Mr. York. Instead, he says, charities prefer to ask employees for their comments and suggestions, and hire outside evaluators.
“Self-reporting has gotten such a bad rap,” says Mr. York, “and the entire private sector would just guffaw at…
March 23, 2012, 6:02 pm
“Innovation” has become such a buzzword lately, particularly among people working on social change. But let’s take a step back and talk about what the word could really mean. Innovation is more than just new ideas. To me, it means taking a completely new approach to how we finance, structure, and prove social change.
The nonprofit world has never lacked new ideas to address problems. In fact, you could argue that nonprofits are innately entrepreneurial, being borne out of a recognized market failing and a new idea to remedy it.
The need, then, is not more new ideas. Rather, true innovation lies in reinventing a field built on social change.
Here are some ways that is starting to happen:
New support mechanisms. The avenues for sending money to social-change efforts are increasing significantly. What started 10 years ago with venture philanthropy has now expanded into…
January 18, 2012, 5:06 pm
To help employees better understand how their colleagues think and make decisions, the Saint Louis Zoo uses a program that distills academic research on personality types into four easy-to-remember colors: blue, gold, green, and orange.
“When you understand the personalities, you have more of an understanding of why and how people make decisions,” says Wyndel E. Hill, a vice president at the zoo. “Even if it’s in opposition to what you would do, you’re more comfortable because you recognize the situation and you recognize the personality type.”
The program helps make disagreements less about a conflict between individuals and more a clash between the work styles that grow…
December 5, 2011, 3:45 pm
Nonprofits that are tackling big questions about their mission benefit greatly from seeking ideas from people outside their organization—including those who work in other fields, says Jeff Leitner. The former advertising executive has started a charity to help organizations do just that.
Insight Labs, in Chicago, brings business executives, scholars, government officials, and others together with a charity’s leaders for a three-hour strategy session to thrash out possible solutions to a tough issue the group faces.
“If you take a roomful of people who aren’t directly invested in the solution, that don’t have a connection to either the problem or the solution, you get pretty…
November 11, 2011, 10:23 am
The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has announced a new fund that will award grants to ventures that grow out of university courses—part of a larger innovation effort at the prestigious business school.
The Wharton Innovation Fund was created by a $2.7-million gift by Alberto Vitale, former chief executive of Random House and a Wharton alumnus. It will award roughly $125,000 in grants each year.
“His interest is in taking advantage of the creativity of the Penn students and the Wharton students in addressing problems that are of larger scale,” says Don Huesman, managing director of the Wharton Innovation Group.
The fund will…
October 26, 2011, 6:30 pm
The U.S. Army has formalized the role of “devil’s advocate” into its decision making—a practice the United States Agency for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have adopted in their fight to eradicate polio.
Groups are good at carrying out tasks, but they don’t make wise decisions, Greg Fontenot, a retired colonel and director of the army’s University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies, told participants at PopTech’s annual ideas conference in Camden, Me.
Group dynamics make it difficult to imagine alternative solutions, and group members’ false assumptions and biases feed off of each other, explained Mr….
October 6, 2011, 12:56 pm
Innovation is as much about what an organization stops doing as about the new efforts that it starts, says Rick Wartzman, executive director of the Drucker Institute, which is dedicated to carrying on the work of the noted author and management consultant Peter Drucker.
“Every organization has a finite amount of resources,” says Mr. Wartzman. “So the first step toward innovating is what Drucker called ‘planned abandonment.’ It’s figuring out what you’re going to stop doing to free up those resources and to stimulate the search for the new.”
Mr. Drucker recommended that every few years organizations review all of their products, processes, and distribution channels, essentially putting each one “on trial for its life,” says Mr. Wartzman.
During that exercise, he says, the organization should also try to determine where each product, process, and distribution channel…