In an article by the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the authors addressed a recent study from the Bridgespan Group that identified an innovation in the nonprofit sector. Although 80% of nonprofit leaders consider innovation an imperative, only 40% of those leaders consider their organization ready for innovation. SSIR went on to discuss the six characteristics that empower nonprofit innovation.

We thought we’d see how these align to innovation in other verticals:

Catalytic leadership

IdeaScale customers often say that the source of innovation culture (or lack of it), starts with leadership. If the leadership sets a tone for celebrating new ideas, an appetite for risk, and actively engages their workforce, it’s more likely that an innovation culture will succeed, because everyone will feel responsible for improving and moving a nonprofit forward.

Curious culture

IdeaScale refers to this as a “culture of learning” a place where employees aren’t defined strictly by their job description and where failures are tolerated as part of the learning experience. The success or failure of a curious culture often hangs on whether or not employees feel safe being vulnerable so that it’s safe to ask questions and not be the expert.


We’ve often quoted Harvard Business Review in saying “organizations with high levels of diversity are 45% more likely to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70% more likely to report that the firm captured a new market.”

Porous boundaries

Ideas need to connect to one another and that means across departments and at all levels of influence and authority. Siloing employees also siloes ideas.

Idea pathways

Great ideas need a path to implementation. Process makes great ideas getting to launch a repeatable result. You can have a few different processes at an organization (for different types of ideas or for different decision making authority, etc), but there needs to be a few steps for the development, selection, and delivering of ideas.


Finally, every idea, no matter how good it is, requires some initial investment of time and money to prototype and test it. Setting aside a portion of time or budget is the difference between a mediocre innovation program and one that really flies.

To learn more about nonprofit innovation, download IdeaScale’s complimentary infographic on the subject.

By Rob Hoehn

About the author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.

Featured image via Unsplash.