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By: Ruby Maddox
Social Innovation are a pretty big buzz word these days. Often linked with concepts like social entrepreneurship and social impact, social innovation presents new ways of thinking about effecting change that employs real and lasting results. Organizations are challenging traditional strategies, creating new partnerships, while finding ways to implement evidence-based programs.
What is it?
“A social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just, than present solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.”
Or as Geoff Mulgan states, “New ideas that work“.
The Centre for Social Innovation asserts that “Social innovation refers to the creation, development, adoption and integration of new and renewed concepts and practices that put people and the planet first.”
In 2009 President Obama announced funding for The Social Innovation Fund (SIF), a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which would combine public and private resources to grow the impact of innovative, community-based solutions that have compelling evidence of improving the lives of people in low-income communities throughout the United States. “The Social Innovation Fund (SIF) is a powerful approach to transforming lives and communities that positions the federal government to be a catalyst for impact—mobilizing public and private resources to find and grow community solutions with evidence of strong results.” – Corporation for National and Community Service.
Social Innovation in organizations incorporates 4 tenets:
Organizations across the country have received funding for projects that are not only forward thinking but offer cross-sector solutions for social problems. The Social Innovation Fund and initiatives like it have helped cultivate an environment of support for new ideas, impact driven results, and of social hubs of like-minded innovators and forward thinking change-makers. Organizations like Startingbloc, Social Innovation Lab, and Hive serve as both leadership development institutes as well as networking societies.
Why is it important?
In their article, “Social Innovation Creates Prosperous Societies,” Kevin Chika Urama & Ernest Nti Acheampong, write,
“Social innovation is helping to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems with new solutions…In the process of creating solutions, it is also profoundly changing beliefs, basic practices, resources, and social power structures….Many of the most important social challenges facing the world today require radical innovation that cuts across organizational, sectoral, and disciplinary boundaries.”
While I’ve always been interested in urban public policy and and civic engagement. In undergrad, I was always pretty certain that I did NOT want to work for the public sector. My passion was looking at alternative forms of community development and I was pretty sure municipal governance was entrenched in doing things one way, with little room for innovation. But today local governments like many non-governmental organizations are developing new strategies to tackle problems and fostering community initiatives that show results. These changes solve basic problems while transforming people’s ideas about what’s possible in urban communities.
How Social Innovation Can Help CBOs
Is your CBO Socially Innovative?
What means are you currently using to achieve your mission? Are there alternative ways that you hadn’t considered? What is something that is new in the approach? What is something that likely has not been done this way? Or been done this way in a particular location? What makes this particular method new or unique?
When I first started working in a food-related organization, I would go to conferences and see many of them same people. We attended the same events, had similar networks, and similar strategic processes. While this was great for resource sharing, benchmarking, and creating a sense of community, it didn’t build an emphasis on bringing people from outside the sector to who could approach the work from their perspective. In your work with your organization what new partnerships can you create with sectors you might not have considered?
Conducive Environment for Innovation:
Think of ways in which your organization can encourage staff and other participants to “think outside the box”. Resist the temptation to suppress alternative perspectives without consideration. Creating an environment charged with creativity and supportive of new ideas is a great way to get a diversity of perspectives and remain forward-thinking as an organization.
Telling our stories is important but knowing if and when we achieve our mission is also essential. Knowing how you’re going to measure your impact should be considered from the inception of any initiative or program plan. You should also have an understanding of how this impact will benefit society as a whole.
While Socially Innovative thinking can be a positive approach for an organization. It shouldn’t be the only focus.
Says, Vanessa Mason, senior eHealth manager at ZeroDivide, an organization that works to advance technology for the under served,
“Social innovation is a necessary approach for community-based organizations in light of dwindling material and human capital. However, don’t let it cause you to lose sight of your mission. It is a means to an end, not the end itself.”
by Ruby Maddox
Community-based organizations, like many small nonprofits, can suffer from a crisis of leadership. Unlike large nonprofit organizations which may have a senior leadership team, the strength of the CBO may rest on one very charismatic and energetic leader. This leader directs the organization, raises funds, writes grants, gives speeches, and generates a budget for the board (and that’s just before lunch).
The ED can be the heart of the organization and in some cases they may even be the founder of the organization; running on pure passion and steam; seeming to make miracles (grants) appear out of thin air, focused and committed to the survival of the organization. While we admire and cheer on these nonprofit warriors, such organizational dynamics are highly unsustainable and can have dire consequences for the organization without the support of a vibrant and active Board of Directors.
Whether your board of directors is a formal board, working group, project committee, or impassioned group of volunteers, a CBO’s board can be the organization’s best asset or the makings of its undoing. Joan Garry recently posted an article on Stories of Bad Board Behavior that included everything from disengaged board members to board members extremely out of touch with the needs of the organization .
But choosing or building a board for your CBO can and must be done effectively for the sake of your organization and its stakeholders. After all, boards carry an ethical (and many times legal) responsibility to the organization and its community.
So how do you take steps to ensure your CBO’s board is responsive, engaged, and reflects the values of the organization?
1) Look for Diversity of Among your Members.
This includes race, class, age, gender etc. In essence don’t recruit all bankers and don’t recruit all homemakers. The more diverse your organization, the more nimble and responsive it will be.
2) Look for Folks Who Will Work.
Board contribution should go beyond monetary means. There should be a clear understanding among all members of your board that active participation is not only expected, it’s required. Which brings me to #3…
3) Draft A Board Contract/Agreement.
Even a board with by-laws should possess a board contract. Board contracts are an excerpt of the board job description. Unlike the description, the contract is a signed acknowledgement of an agreement between the board member and the organization on what is expected from both parties. You can find several examples of board contracts and agreements from Blue Avocado, Nonprofit Resource Center, and CompassPoint. Determine which is right for your board.
4) Draw up Your Organizational Values.
The organization’s values should be derived from the mission statement but should expand on them. These values should be non-negotiable, clearly articulated, and guide the nomination and recruitment process. A board member who does not recognize or understand the values of the organization is not qualified to make decisions on behalf of the organization or its stakeholders.
5) Be Strategic.
If the organization has a vision and a plan of how they would like to grow and/or expand their capacity (if they don’t then they should) , they must choose board members equipped with the skills to assist the organization in reaching those goals.
6) Audition Board Members.
Board committees are usually made up of a few board members and a few community members. These committees tackle projects too large for the board’s capacity alone. Committee can be the perfect recruiting ground in which to see a potential board member in action before nomination.
7) Have a Nomination and Recruitment Plan in Place.
The board should develop a predetermined method for nominating, screening, and recruiting board members.
By Ruby Maddox
Many nonprofit professionals are familiar with the term, Mission-based Management; a term made popular by Peter Brinkerhoff‘s publication bearing the same name. In it Brinkerhoff describes the cornerstone of Mission-based management in 3 core principles: 1)Nonprofits are businesses, 2)Funds donated to an organization carry an expectation of outcome/service, and 3) Nonprofits should not consider themselves restricted from making a profit, nor should they be cautioned from doing so by their environment. (Brinkerhoff, 2009) .
He then goes on to describe the 10 characteristics of effective nonprofit organizations.
1. A viable mission.
2. Ethical, accountable and transparent.
3. A businesslike board of directors.
4. A strong, well-educated staff.
5. Embracing technology for mission.
6. Social entrepreneurs.
7. A bias for marketing.
8. Financially empowered.
9. A vision for where they are going
10. A tight set of controls.
From an organizational sustainability context, this approach makes sense. An organization can not survive if there is no plan for the future or careful consideration on how the organization will sustain its work. And everyone knows you can’t start off your fiscal year at $0. While it’s true that community-based nonprofit managers must be diligent in their oversight to maximize resources, truly fulfilling the mission of the organization may run contrary to this “Return-on-investment-hyper-efficiency” philosophy; since an organization may prove to be less efficient but still very much effective.
People-based Management for Community-based Organizations
Whereas people-based management in business refers to an employee-centered viewpoint for greater and more long-term results, people-based management offers something more to community-based organizations. It represents an innovative philanthropic paradigm where steps are taken in separating the preservation of the mission from the preservation of the organization itself. It considers the perspective that an organization should NOT exist solely on the basis for it’s own survival.
People-based management in this sense, refers to the way in which an organization relates to it constituents, volunteers, and employees. It is the perspective that declares that each stakeholder is an activist in the organization’s shared endeavor, capable of applying their skills to advance the mission.
People-based management for community-based organizations considers several aspects :
• Community leadership training
• Opportunities for applied leadership
• Exchange of power dynamics
• Emphasis on relationship building and networking
• Prioritizing constituent agenda
• Meaningful & consequential systems of accountability
People-based management for CBOs believes in the capabilities of every person to be a leader in his or her own way. Because Leadership happens in various arenas (not just formal ones), people-based management taps into that capacity, develops it, and applies it. It addresses the inequity in access to power and considers the level of self-efficacy among stakeholders. There is an emphasis on relationship building not only as a means of networking but as a way of establishing trust and developing opportunities for further engagement to create a shared vision, based on that trust.
Many of the concepts of Mission-based Management are still quite valid however if adhered to in a vacuum especially in the matter of CBOs, there is a risk of the organization being conceived of as illegitimate, inauthentic, and ultimately irrelevant.
Part 2 of this series will discuss further what this concept looks like in practice.
Does your organization practice any form of People-Based Management?
By Ruby Maddox
Many fundraising experts like Dr. Tempel agree, fundraising is about building relationships and engaging donors. Donors tend to give where the feel connected. Building that connection takes time, cultivation, and a show of commitment to the values of the organization.
While many CBOs have dedicated staff that do amazing work for the organization it’s important to find ways to share the organization’s story to provide donors (and potential donors) a way to connect with the essence of that work. So here are some ways you can tell that story.
1. Social Media
This is absolutely a no-brainer. Most organizations already have, at minimum, a facebook and a twitter page, but what are you doing with it? If your audience is on social media use your account to post/tweet upcoming events, pictures from past events, articles related to your organization’s cause, and organizational successes and milestones. Since many CBOs may not have a dedicated communications person (let alone a social media manager) here are a few tips to get your org started.
2. Annual Report
Annual reports are not only a good way to tell your organization’s story, they’re also a great way to show your organization’s profile and demonstrate transparency since they also include the org’s financial information. Annual reports can be a way for an organization to really highlight its successes over the past year and illustrate the need that the organization fulfills. Not sure where to begin? Here are few resources to help get you started.
Tried and true, a newsletter can be an excellent way to share your organizations story in a predictable and creative way. Most can be done electronically and pretty inexpensively through services like Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, and Verticalresponse. These programs are simple to use and offer excellent templates.
Plus, going electronic with your newsletter (or mostly electronic unless otherwise requested) will save your organization money and allow your audience to keep up to date on the most recent events and stories happening in your organization. You can choose to do a monthly or quarterly newsletter, depending on your org’s capacity.
The opportunity to present the work of your organization doesn’t need to be one-sided. In other words, don’t wait to be asked. Put the invite out there. Offer to come and talk to classrooms, clubs/associations, church groups, events, etc. Put together a simple presentation that highlights the work of the organization and have it ready to go. If possible train several members of your organization to perform this task.
Your presentation shouldn’t be based around asking for money but building relationships. Bring materials from your organization to share and have a sign-up sheet for anyone interested in learning more about the org or joining the email list to receive the organization’s newsletters.
How does your organization tell its story?
By Ruby Maddox
When we think of Urban Agriculture, most people tend to think of community gardens; vast networks of gardens and gardeners in places like Boston, New York, and DC. When we think of Urban Agriculture Organizations some folks might recall Urban Farmer and McArthur Genius award recipient, Will Allen and his Growing Power organization in Milwaukee or the People’s Grocery in Oakland CA.
For many urban communities, urban agriculture offers sense of hope for what is possible in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty, divestment, and health disparities. Urban Ag has become a tool for activism. It brings together communities to address issues of food justice , racism, and unequal access to goods and services. Rohit Kunar’s article, How Urban Agriculture Is Revitalizing Local Economies, cited the many ways in which urban agriculture is working to improve urban communities and our economy.
Getting youth involved in changing our food system is key to achieving Food Justice and creating healthier urban communities. Across the country urban communities are coming together reclaiming open spaces and using them to grow food for the community and encourage youth leadership. Below are just 3 organizations you should know about.
Poughkeepsie Farm Project
(From their Website) The Poughkeepsie Farm Project is a non-profit organization that works toward a just and sustainable food system in the Mid-Hudson Valley by operating a member-supported farm, providing education about food and farming, and improving access to healthy locally-grown food.
Poughkeepsie Farm Project runs a program called City Seeds is an intensive educational program that trains future farmers; provides youth from urban areas with hands-on farming, gardening and cooking experiences; and produces and distributes regionally-adapted and open-pollinated seeds while sharing knowledge about seed saving. Through City Seeds, young people have opportunities to engage in meaningful, skill-building work while learning to:grow food,save seeds make a difference in their communities and the food system.
Acta Non Verba
Located Oakland, California and started by Executive Director Kelly Carlisle, Acta Non Verba teaches youth how to grow and sell vegetables inside the city. All funds generated from the sale of the produce is then invested into bank accounts for the participating youth.
Gardening the Community
And of course, Gardening the Community(GtC). GtC is a food justice organization in Springfield, Massachusetts engaged in youth development, urban agriculture, and sustainable living to build healthy and equitable communities. Not only an organization, GtC is a community within a community reaching across a diverse demographic of Pioneer Valley residents to an urban oasis.
Tell Me about a Youth Urban Agriculture Program in your Neighborhood
By Ruby Maddox
My last post discussed what donors and volunteers could do to help their favorite community-based organization(CBO). This post is about what CBO staff can do to help their organization. With the end of the year right around the corner, it’s usually time to review budgets, push out final reports. For many orgs it’s a time for reflecting on the work of the previous year and figuring how the organization will best meet its mission in the coming year.
While it’s too late to start any new initiatives, here’s one great way to give your CBO a great head start in the new year.
Organize A Year-Long Communication Plan
Your organization should be in contact with donors and other stakeholders throughout the year (not just during the giving season). Creating a year-long communication plan is a major part of creating a donor stewardship plan, since effective and consistent communication builds relationships with current donors and cultivates new ones. Here are a few things you should add to your calendar.