A Culture of Philanthropic Innovation

January 16, 2018 Ali Martinez

This year’s edition of Blackbaud Institute’s npEXPERTS series covered Building a Culture of Philanthropy.

At bbcon this year, the Institute continued the conversation in our featured panel, A Culture of Philanthropic Innovation.

From the panel description:

Today and tomorrow’s evolving social issues can’t be solved with yesterday’s approaches. Many in the nonprofit sector have realized that having a mentality of scarcity leads to scarcity of success. This creates painfully high turnover and unsustainable relationships between constituents and organizations. A culture shift is necessary to allow our organizations and individuals to be more agile in achieving our missions and spreading social good.

However, this kind of culture shift cannot be achieved unless the entire organization is on board. It’s time for a frank discussion on the role each and every one of us—from leadership to board, database managers to finance teams—can and must play to foster an open, innovative culture of philanthropy.

We were joined by a great group of panelists from across the sector:

If you couldn’t make it to bbcon (maybe next year?), you can now watch the recorded panel on the Blackbaud Institute website.

If you’d like a quick rundown of the topics covered, we’ve compiled the biggest ideas from the panel discussion.

1. Utilize digital tools to stay involved in upcoming trends

"With the digital tools available today, there is a true opportunity to unlock creativity and to unlock breakthroughs in giving." - Cheryl Contee, CEO & Co-Founder, Fission Strategy, Attentive.ly

As Cheryl goes on to say, the barrier to entry for certain digital tools and software is lower than ever. It’s imperative that your organization takes advantage of them, learn about trends, and think creatively to create additional opportunities.

2. Innovation can be done in small increments

"Don't focus on innovation. Focus on making small changes every day by applying and sharing solutions." - Amy Sample Ward, CEO, Nonprofit Technology Network

Innovation doesn’t have to mean a big, organization-wide change. It can be the small, everyday solutions. Then, when one team finds a solution, they can share it with another department that can utilize or add to that solution. In this way, Amy explains, team members are constantly innovating, sharing, collaborating, and the innovative culture will develop naturally.

3. Evaluate risks with information

"Information is critical to making things happen. If you really want to try something new, share important data and projected success with leadership." - Shanon Doolittle, Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Voice for Good

An ideal situation where taking risks, trying new things, and failing forward are met unwavering support isn’t always realistic for an organization. Most of the time, leadership will be hesitant or resistant to trying new things if they don’t understand the potential benefits.

Shanon offers a shortcut to getting the go-ahead on a new project: bring in information from others’ success with similar programs.

To make a decision, leadership will have to know it’s viable and that it works. Focus on explaining why something needs to be tried and why your organization is at risk of falling behind the curve if it isn’t.

Bonus Inspiration:

Towards the end of the talk, our expert panelists shared organizations they think are doing a great job being on the cutting edge of innovation and creativity in the sector:


For a deeper dive into building a culture of philanthropy, download npEXPERTS – Fundraising Matters: Building a Culture of Philanthropy.

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