THE IMPACT LEAK – Innovation or iteration? Moving the sector towards digital.
Updated: Jun 24
- What impacts the good we do?
It’s Canada's Innovation Week and the chatter about digital transformation for the nonprofit sector rages on. There’s a dawning sense of the need, now being researched and itemized like the Canada Helps Survey on digital skills. There’s a huge shortage of skills followed by a lack of budget to update those skills. And without budget, how do we acquire the software to train the skills.
But are we looking at iteration or innovation?
The Cambridge dictionary defines iteration as ‘the process of doing something again and again, usually to improve it.’ So what happens if our ‘again and again’ isn’t getting us very far? What if ‘again and again’ is really only ‘inching forward’ when we need to take leaps? Does that describe where the majority of the sector is?
And when we look at innovation, a wiki definition gives us the subtle difference that can spell the biggest change for the sector, ‘Innovation is the practical implementation of ideas that result in the introduction of new goods or services or improvement in offering goods or services.’ The words ‘new’ and ‘improvement’ are the key to understanding innovation.
Iteration is more of the same with some movement forward and this presently describes the nonprofit sector. “Slow to go, Slow to grow” This gives us all a sense of comfort with the discomfort, of being under-resourced, inflexible, unable to retain youth, in a constant state of struggle. Because if we are iterating, we feel like we are moving forward, we feel as if we are achieving great things by taking tiny steps. This contrasts markedly with innovation. It’s fast. It achieves things measurably. The skills take agility, knowledge and commitment. But we are very, very tired.
So is there an answer? You may not like it but here it is. We need a Tesla. Yes, we need a Tesla that changes the demand for a product, builds a whole new market, and causes a stir. Because after the Tesla, we get to the Mustang Mach-E that brings in a whole new set of people who wouldn’t normally consider an EV car and the ‘market’ enlarges AGAIN. To be clear, the nonprofit sector NEEDS a new way of doing things to bring more donors to stabilize service delivery to give us a fighting chance of growing the sector. And grow we must. Covid has proven the inequities. It has laid bare that we are only scratching the surface and not getting to a solution. And solutions are what innovation is about.
The nonprofit sector needs to innovate. We need skills + time+ money and we won’t gain those if they are separated and worked on individually. We always think that more money will fix us; it doesn’t. A strong, independent, solutions-focused sector won’t need fixing because it will be blooming and its’ growth will change the world.