Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Disruptive Innovation Coming to Nonprofits

You want innovation?  You want disruption?

You got it.

Check out this article from Fast Company on how Howard Buffett plans to invest in the nonprofit community - but with a catch.

Business savvy and investment comes with a simple message - I will invest but you have to get your acts together.  Stop competing.  Stop setting up nonprofit after nonprofit to only handle a certain smaller and smaller piece of the pie.  Coordinate.  Collaborate.

Not-for-profit trade and professional associations should take note.  We have association after association setting up, splintering off, diluting our ability to work together and leverage our collective voices mostly because groups either a) feel misunderstood or b) only want to protect a certain piece of the industry or profession.

Now, don't get me wrong.  We have dynamic forces working here.  Increasing specialization seems to be an inexorable force and is a direct result of the increasing complexity of our societal structure.  There can be a legitimate need to affiliate in smaller groups.  But one of the key reasons why associations keep splintering off into smaller groups is because the bigger groups are often tone deaf and aren't equipped correctly to provide opportunities for those smaller groups to flourish in their current sphere.

It comes down to fear and control.  And a lack of willingness to compromise.

Now, we have a player who has entered the 501(c)(3) arena who is putting money behind a simple idea.  Identify the problems and work together to fix them.  Stop the duplication of effort.  Crowdsource your talents.  How many hundreds of medical societies do we need?  If we do need them, then how can we create the kind of collaborative platform that will host that ecological system and channel their talents into a holistic grappling with health services?

If Howard Buffett is successful, he could remake the face of nonprofit philanthropy world wide.

Who will enter our sphere and do the same?

Sweet dreams.


  1. I'm not sure this translates as easily to the association space, Shelly. Ask the doctors how many hundred different specialty societies they need and they will say just about as many as we have now. The world of medicine is that complex and the educational and professional development needs are that distinct.


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