I spent the better part of last week facilitating a partnership workshop with a large company focused on accelerating its social impact goals. What surprised me about my experience with this inspired and talented group, was not the fact that coordination and communication was a challenge (that’s often true of all organizations, big or small), but how different they look at partnerships compared to the partners they were convening to discuss --- nonprofits.
I’ve been grappling for a while with the role of nonprofits as partners to companies, and shared recent thoughts about the emergence of social enterprise as a quasi-competitor to nonprofits as suitable partners for companies, but one comment during this convening stuck with me – a participant mentioned that he wants his leaders to understand the opportunity to ‘try new things’ and ‘test innovation’ by co-creating with nonprofits.
This fast paced company sees nonprofits as innovation partners. Are the nonprofits hearing this!?
What a great opportunity for them! Nonprofits are often chasing funding, focused whole-heartedly on their mission, as they should. But I wonder how many nonprofits see a role to play as being co-creators and idea generators with companies that are looking for opportunities to test new ideas, and ways to make a difference in the world at the same time? Is there a different mentality that nonprofits can take as innovation partners?
By the way I am not alone in wondering about the future of nonprofits. Check out this article I saw last week recounting a similar trend: thinking about social enterprise as the more innovative and higher ROI partners for companies: “A World Where Charities Are No Longer Needed.” I often say that a job of a nonprofit is to put itself out of a job. If the nonprofit is no longer needed, then the problem or challenge it is addressing has been solved, right? But in all fairness, the question about relevance needs to be addressed when thinking about the role of nonprofits as innovation partners.
What do others think?