NNSI Research Report: Catalyzing Organizational Innovation in the Nonprofit Sector

Innovation has become a buzzword for nonprofit organizations seeking to obtain funding, improve service delivery, and enhance performance. In this research, we asked one question: how can nonprofit organizations be more innovative? To answer this question, we conducted surveys among a random sample of 2,000 nonprofit organizations with a revenue above $250,000 in the United States from April to August 2017. In total, 306 organizations returned surveys and 293 surveys had valid, complete responses.

Definition of key terms

  • Administrative innovations describe new organizational structures and administrative processes. In the survey, we asked the total number of administrative innovations an organization created or adopted in the past three years.
  • Technological innovations refer to new technologies, products, and services created and/or adopted by an organization. In the survey, we asked the total number of technological innovations an organization created or adopted in the past three years.
  • Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are technical tools, including hardware and software, used to facilitate information sharing and communication. Some examples include, but are not limited to, social media, intranet, instant messaging, shared databases, case management software, wikis, and online document sharing.
  • Proactiveness represents the degree to which an organization creates and/or adopts innovations in advance of their competitors in the field.

What are the main findings of the study?

  • Nonprofit organizations that form partnerships with more diverse types of organizations (e.g., corporations, government agencies, foundations, educational institutions, religious entities) are more innovative in creating and/or adopting both administrative and technological innovations.
  • Nonprofit organizations that use ICTs to share knowledge with members in their organization and with partners outside their organization are better at creating and/or adopting technological innovations.
  • Nonprofit organizations that are more proactive create and/or adopt more administrative and technological innovations.
  • Without a sense of proactiveness, nonprofit organizations would not be able to leverage the benefits of diverse partnerships and ICTs for adopting and/or creating technological innovations.

What are the implications for nonprofit organizations?

The findings provide valuable insights to nonprofit leaders on how to leverage collaboration networks, ICTs, and strategic orientation to catalyze organizational innovation. In general, if nonprofit organizations aspire to be more innovative, they need to develop diverse types of partnerships with other organizations and cultivate a sense of proactive orientation to stay ahead of competition. In addition, if they want to improve their technological innovativeness in particular, they need to use ICTs to streamline their knowledge sharing processes in and across organizations. Knowledge sharing includes sharing work reports, official documents, manuals, experience, as well as know-how, know-where, and know-whom on a regular basis. To foster a sense of proactiveness, nonprofit organizations may actively exploit changes in their field or provide the lead for similar service changes. For more details, continue reading this infographic.


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