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nonprofit innovation

Can We Reinvent the Arts?

National Innovation SummitI’m really excited about a new conference I’m participating in this October, and I’d love to see you there.

ArtsFwd, an interactive online platform where arts leaders can learn from each other about the power of adaptive change and the practice of innovation, is holding a first-ever National Innovation Summit for Arts + Culture October 20th-23rd in Denver and online. (I interviewed the head of ArtsFwd, Karina Mangu-Ward, on the blog in 2012 and co-led a Chronicle of Philanthropy Live Chat about connecting money and mission with her last spring.)

The National Innovation Summit for Arts + Culture will bring together arts leaders from around the world to explore the challenges, discoveries, and achievements of daring to depart from traditional approaches. Although the Summit will take place in Denver there is also a robust virtual component. The on-site conference will bring together 250 pioneering arts leaders and funders from 14 communities who were selected based on their track record of innovation and well-developed adaptive capacities.

But the Virtual Summit is open to everyone. All 27 powerful Summit Talks will be available via livestream. The dynamic series of thematically linked 12-minute talks by bold leaders from across the country will highlight the remarkable and mostly untold stories of innovative projects unfolding in arts and culture organizations.

The themes are:

  • Taking Collective Action (6p ET on 10/20)
  • Co-Creating with the Public (11a ET on 10/21)
  • Artists as Agents of Change (1p ET on 10/21)
  • Animating Neighborhoods (5:30p ET on 10/21)
  • Citizenship and the Arts (11a ET on 10/22)
  • Transforming Organizational Structure (5:30p ET on 10/22)

I will be leading an online discussion in the Transforming Organizational Structure theme. In this theme, six speakers will each spend 12 minutes talking about their stories of radical restructuring inside their organizations, including new staffing structures, the creation of innovation capital, embracing risk, and redefining the meaning of success in order to support innovation. Some of the speakers include Susan Medak, Managing Director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre; Steven Matijcio, Curator of Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati; and Lori Fogarty, Director and CEO of Oakland Museum of California.

Instead of asking the question, “How do we survive?” these arts leaders asked the question “What do we want to accomplish and how can we rethink our work to get there?”

The Transforming Organizational Structures theme is all about breaking free from small thinking. Small thinking handcuffs organizations to the ways things have always been done, the staffing structures that have worked before, financial models that once were profitable, programs that used to draw an audience. In order to stay relevant and continue to make an impact in our communities, arts organizations increasingly need to scrap the old structures and reinvent themselves.

This is not easy work, by a long shot.

So I am eager to hear these arts leaders talk about how they stayed true to larger, longer-term goals while throwing out old structures. How they found consensus around an ultimate goal and then began to build structure around it. And how they found funding for this transformational work. Arts organizations are notoriously resource constrained, which often breeds an aversion to risk. So I look forward to hearing how these organizations broke free from that risk aversion and found a way to innovate forward.

At the end of the six talks, I will lead an online discussion among the group. My questions will include:

  • What elements need to be in place in order to completely rethink organizational structure and purpose?
  • How can organizations move away from thinking about structure and instead think about the ultimate end goal of the work?
  • How do we move beyond the inherent risk-aversion of a financially strapped sector in order to embrace innovation?
  • How do we convince funders that risk and innovation are worth funding?

The National Innovation Summit for Arts + Culture promises to open our minds to new possibilities and ways forward. To participate in the Virtual Summit, register here.

I hope to see you there!


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Live Chatting Mission and Money

Computer_keyboardI’m excited to announce that I will be participating in a Chronicle of Philanthropy Live Chat on Tuesday, March 26th at 12 noon Eastern. Karina Mangu-Ward, from EmcArts will be joining me to answer questions from the audience about connecting mission and money. You may remember Karina from a past interview I did with her. She’s really amazing and is the Director of Activating Innovation at EmcArts, a social enterprise for innovation and adaptive change across the arts sector. She leads the strategy and development of, an interactive online platform where arts leaders can learn from each other about the power of adaptive change and the practice of innovation.

Karina and I will be live chatting and answering questions from the audience, so I hope you can join us. It promises to be a fast-paced, interactive hour.

Here’s an excerpt from the Chronicle of Philanthropy description:

In the mad dash for donor dollars, nonprofits often take money for projects that distract them from their missions. Some donors pitch new programs but provide too little money to pay for a big enough staff to run it, so the charity ends up skimping on efforts that its clients really need. Other nonprofits might think holding a fancy gala will raise tons of money but don’t consider how the time spent planning the event will affect the group’s critical services. Join us on Tuesday, March 26, at noon U.S. Eastern time for a live online discussion about how to take a more strategic approach to fundraising. You’ll learn how to focus your fundraising efforts on your organization’s mission—and why saying no to some opportunities might actually help your nonprofit raise more money.

If you’re interested in participating, it’s easy. Just go to the Chronicle Live Chat page here at 12 Eastern on Tuesday, March 26th. You don’t need to RSVP or login, just show up.

I hope to see you there!

Photo Credit: wikimedia

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10 Great Social Innovation Reads: December 2012

reading winterAs the end of 2012 drew near, December brought the usual looking forward and looking back. It was a time to reflect on where we’d been and where we (might) be going. It was also a time to salve the pain of disaster and tragedy with hope and innovation.

Below are my top 10 reads in December in social innovation. But please add what I missed to the comments. And if you want to see an expanded list, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or ScoopIt.

You can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.

  1. First we took a look back. Lucy Bernholz, queen of social sector predictions, reviews the ten year predictions that she made in 2010 to see how she’s doing so far. PhilanTopic offers an infographic that demonstrates how effective online and social media fundraising was in 2012.

  2. Then we look ahead. Writing on the Nonprofit Quarterly blog, Rick Cohen provides a wrap up of various social sector leaders’ predictions for how the nonprofit sector will change in the coming year. And Twitter’s Manager For Social Innovation describes how social media is shaping the future of nonprofits. And on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog Mark Tobias offers nonprofits Ten Technology Trends to Watch in 2013.

  3. Amidst the season of giving, Caroline Fiennes and Phil Buchanan explain (on the Freakeconomics blog) why giving to fewer charities is actually better.

  4. In a very interesting thought piece Kenneth Rogoff, economics professor at Harvard, takes issue with those who argue that our current economic troubles stem from a long-term innovation crisis.

  5. Building on a growing movement to get the nonprofit sector to stand up for itself, Johns Hopkins University released the results of a nonprofit sector survey that found a widespread consensus that seven values lie at the core of the nonprofit sector. But they also found that nonprofit leaders believe the sector must better articulate these values to the media, government, and general public.

  6. In his usual fashion, Seth Godin likes to pronounce on the nonprofit sector, a sector which he doesn’t quite understand. His post Non-profits Have a Charter to be Innovators drew some fire, but raised some interesting questions. And echoing that interest in seeing more nonprofit innovation, Google shifts their philanthropic focus in an interesting way. 

  7. And not to be left behind, philanthropy is getting into the innovation game too with more foundations exploring design thinking.

  8. After the horror of the Newtown tragedy on December 14th, this collection of 26 photos from 2012 helped restore our faith in humanity and was a much needed salve.

  9. The Red Cross provided a great case study on how pull (instead of push) marketing can work in the nonprofit world.

  10. Something really interesting came out of hurricane Sandy: crowdfunding disaster relief. No longer is disaster response the sole responsibility of government and large nonprofits, individuals set up their own relief efforts via social media.

Photo Credit: Svenstorm

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A Monster List of Resources For Nonprofit Innovation

Since today is Halloween I wanted to continue a tradition I started last Halloween of providing a list of resources about nonprofit innovation. I’ve created the list below by culling from our constantly evolving and much larger list of resources on the Social Velocity website. Below I’ve handpicked the tools I think are most useful for wielding the money sword, connecting to the larger social innovation movement, and finding inspiration. Please add to the list in the comments of this post.

Happy Halloween!

Wielding the Money Sword

Connecting to the Social Innovation Movement

Finding Inspiration

What have I missed? What books, conferences, articles, tools do you find inspiring and insightful? Add to the list in the comments.

Photo Credit: dimland

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New Ways To Keep Up with Social Innovation

I am increasingly amazed and excited by the growing Social Velocity community. Social Velocity blog readers, e-newsletter subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook fans are some of the coolest, most inspiring people. You are nonprofit executive directors and development directors, for-profit social entrepreneurs, passionate board members, engaged philanthropists and on and on.

So, in an effort to tailor content to your specific interests, I’m giving you more options for how you can keep up with the world of nonprofit innovation. I have a handy dandy new email signup form with lots of choices.

For example you can:

  • Sign up for the monthly Social Velocity e-newsletter
  • Get news about new Social Velocity tools or webinars
  • Discover new interviews with social innovators
  • Keep up to date on Financing Not Fundraising
  • Read new nonprofit case studies from the world of social innovation
  • Receive an email every time there is a new Social Velocity blog post

It’s all up to you.

So if you’d like to join the growing Social Velocity community (9,000 and counting) of people passionate about innovation in the nonprofit sector click here to sign up.

I hope to hear from you!

And for those of you who already receive the Social Velocity monthly e-newsletter, you’ll see a new look when it arrives in your inbox next week. As always, I’d love to hear what you think.

Thanks for being part of this great community!

Photo Credit: Library of Congress

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Innovation in the Arts: An Interview with Karina Mangu-Ward

In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Karina Mangu-Ward. Karina is the Director of Activating Innovation at EmcArts a social enterprise for innovation and adaptive change across the arts sector. She leads the strategy and development of, an interactive online platform where arts leaders can learn from each other about the power of adaptive change and the practice of innovation. Her interest is in bringing adaptive capacity and innovation from the margins of dialogue in the arts sector to the center.

You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.

Nell: ArtsFwd is about encouraging and profiling innovation in the arts. But innovation is such a loaded and overused word, what does it mean to ArtsFwd and what do you think is true innovation?

Karina: Innovation is definitely a buzzy word, so we try to be careful about how we use it. ArtsFwd is a project of EmcArts, a non-profit that works with arts organizations across the country to strengthen their adaptive capacities and advance the practice of innovation. So we’re primarily concerned with organizational innovation, which EmcArts has defined as instances of organizational change that: 1) result from a shift in underlying assumptions, 2) are discontinuous from previous practices, and 3) provide new pathways to creating public value.

So we’re not talking about creativity, which is more of an individual pursuit, or inspiration, which is about a momentary spark. The stories we tell on ArtsFwd are about organizations working to build their capacity to adapt to a rapidly shifting environment through the process of innovation, which requires a cross-functional team working together over a sustained period of time to develop, test, and optimize genuinely new approaches.

Nell: Why do you think innovation is particularly important in the arts world and why now?

Karina: In the past 10 years, unprecedented changes in our operating environment have placed radical new demands on our arts organizations. We’re seeing changes in patterns of public participation, technological access to the arts, generational and demographic shifts, new forms of resource development, and many more factors. Now more than ever, it’s apparent that the “muscles” arts leaders exercise to promote organizational stability need to be balanced by equally strong muscles around adaptive capacity. We believe that organizations can build those muscles, and an ultimately an organizational culture that is intrinsically flexible and responsive, by in investing in incubating innovation.

While a few training opportunities exist to support adaptive change, like those offered by EmcArts’ Innovation Labs and New Pathways for the Arts programs, the nonprofit cultural field lacked an arena for timely, field-wide conversation and peer-to-peer learning around these new practices. In order to pick up on the remarkably innovative work underway in some organizations, so that individual examples of success can become new norms in the field, there was an urgent need for a field-wide learning platform. In response to this need, EmcArts created ArtsFwd a place for arts leaders to learn from each other about building adaptive capacity and the power of effective innovation.

Nell: What are some of the most innovative things you’ve seen in the arts?

Karina: I love the story of how the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) in San Francisco transformed their visitor experience from “come, look, leave” to “immersive.” There’s a lot of discussion right now about how the arts sector can move from thinking about audiences as passively receptive to actively engaged, and I think YBCA is at the bleeding edge of this work. They’ve changed the museum’s hours, handed curatorial duties over to junior staff, redesigned their website around big ideas instead of logistics, and started a new personalized arts education program called YBCA:You. Check out our short documentary and written profile about how they did it .

The Wooster Group’s Video Dailies Blog is a great example of putting technology to work to build audiences in a way that is genuine to the artistic core of the organization. I think that’s really hard to do. The Wooster Group had to rethink their assumptions about organizational structure by inviting the entire staff to participate in a lateral way in the creation of a daily short video that truly blurs the line between marketing and art. Check out their profile on ArtsFwd.

One that we haven’t covered on ArtsFwd is the Portland Museum of Art’s Object Stories. With this project, they invited visitors to bring a personally meaningful object with them into a booth at the museum and record a story about it. The booth took a series of pictures and creates an audio slideshow, which became part of an exhibit at the museum and an online gallery. It’s a beautiful example of creating an authentically participatory experience that spans the divide between visitor and creator.

Nell: People often say that when economic times are hard charitable dollars to the arts are the first to go because the arts are more “expendable” than social services and other more basic needs. How do you respond to that idea?

Karina: I’m (obviously) predisposed to think that defunding the arts is a great way to shoot ourselves collectively in the foot. But what I find really exciting right now is that we’re seeing a lot of innovative arts groups partnering with social service and urban development organizations to improve their communities. The arts have always been a part of making our communities (and lives) livable, so it’s inspiring to see the connection between arts and direct services forged more deeply.

For example, on ArtsFwd we’re following what’s happening at Adventure Stage Chicago, a theater organization that was created within the Northwestern University Settlement House (NUSH), a century old social service provider, as they join forces to incorporate the arts into social services delivery. Artful practices are being integrated in NUSH’s Head Start program, summer camps for kids, and adult programs, including their food bank, and senior program. Anyone who receives services was invited to co-create a new theater piece about “home,” which was performed in the Adventure Stage auditorium in Spanish, the native language for most of the community. We have a multimedia profile about their process premiering on ArtsFwd in our Innovation Stories section. Stay tuned!

Also, there’s a lot of talk about placemaking happening right now, and I’m encouraged to see the arts taking a vital role in that conversation. For example, Springboard for the Arts in Minneapolis is working on a project called Irrigate, which is an artist-led creative placemaking initiative that will help turn the six miles surrounding a new light rail under construction in an underdeveloped and undervalued part of Saint Paul into a welcoming place. The project brings together infrastructure development, a diverse community, and artists in a cross-sector collaboration.

Nell: Arts organizations in particular have struggled because of increasing competition for an audience’s time. How do you think the arts can overcome those trends? And are some areas of the arts better positioned to overcome it?

Karina: What I’m seeing in the arts sector right now is a shift from thinking about the abundance of new technologies and channels for entertainments as competition, to thinking about them as opportunities for cooperation. After all, the NEA’s Survey of Public Participation in the Arts indicated that 74% of Americans are engaging with arts, yet only 35% are doing so through professional “benchmark” arts organizations. There’s a huge territory of interest to cultivate, if we can find ways of connecting and engaging.

Nina Simon is doing great work in this area right now and writing about it with refreshing openness on her blog Museum 2.0. For example, she experimented with having a puzzle, unrelated to the artistic work, in the galleries to engage visitors for a long period of time, though not directly with the art. She was testing the idea that by bringing potentially “competing” activities into the gallery you increase the length of time someone is in a artful environment and therefore the chances that they will have a meaningful experience with the art. There was some interesting push back on that experiment from artists, which you can read about here.

This in the same vein, City Lights Theater Company in San Jose is experimenting with Tweet Seats, or seats where audience members are encouraged to tweet, which defuses the competition for attention while also generating publicity for the show. If you can’t fight ‘em, make ‘em work for you, right?

Nell: The Nonprofit Finance Fund is in the process of a pretty interesting “Change Capital for the Arts” project where they are helping arts organizations raise capital to revamp their organizations. What do you think about the concept of change capital and do you see more arts organizations going after it?

Karina: We’re encouraged by this move from old capitalization, i.e big endowment campaigns, to more frequent injections of smaller amounts of capital to bridge the inevitable gap between prototyping and the sustainability of a new strategy.

We certainly see a hunger for this kind of “risk” or “change” capital in the organizations applying to our Innovation Labs, which is why we provide a $40,000 grant for prototyping during the program. This kind of seed money helps managers resist the pressure to monetize or fossilize new programs too soon, giving them the breathing space for innovations to grow and embrace a culture of adaptive capacity. Note: the deadline for Round 2 of the Innovation Lab for Museums is May 15th.

I was encouraged to hear Ken Foster, Executive Director of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts talk eloquently in this ArtsFwd podcast about setting up a $200,000 fund within the organization’s annual budget to encourage innovation and risk. Throughout the year, any staff member can apply to the fund with an innovative idea. All they need a champion from senior staff (not necessarily from their own department) and to fill out a short application. Small grants are awarded in a rolling basis.

This kind of change capital is the money we need a lot of right now. The failure of funders to provide it is one of the reasons why innovation has not had a larger impact on the field.

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10 Great Social Innovation Reads: October

I think it gets harder and harder every month to narrow down to a list of only 10 great reads in social innovation. October was no exception. Here are my top 10 of the last month (but actually more like 13 if you’re counting). As always, please add what I missed to the comments. And if you want to see the expanded list of what catches my eye, follow me on Twitter @nedgington.

You can also read the lists of Great Reads from previous months here.

  1. Marketing is a brave new world these days, and so is fundraising. Replace “customer” with “donor” and “We’re All Marketers Now” from McKinsey Quarterly applies to nonprofits as well.

  2. A new Chronicle of Philanthropy blog launched recently that focuses on innovation in the nonprofit world. One of the first posts is about how the U.S. Army’s practice of using a “devil’s advocate” in their decision-making processes is something that some philanthropists are copying in order to come up with better solutions.

  3. Occupy Wall Street and the other protests in cities around the country was a big topic this month. Some of the most interesting were Who are the 99 percent?  from Ezra Klein in The Washington Post  and The Demographics of Occupy Wall Street from Fast Company.

  4. From the Harvard Business Review blog comes an argument that I completely agree with. Nonprofits that are struggling lack a “strategy for connecting their mission with their ability to deliver.”

  5. I know infographics are becoming overused, but this one is pretty cool: How the Top 50 Nonprofits Do Social Media.

  6. And speaking of the top nonprofits, the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Philanthropy 400 is out, all about what the 400 wealthiest nonprofits are up to.

  7. The Alliance for Children and Families, a membership group for human-service charities, released a new report identifying the emerging trends social service organizations must embrace in order to succeed.

  8. If you missed the live-streaming from the White House last week on social impact bonds, Pay for Success: Investing in What Works, you can still watch archived recordings, or check out the Nonprofit Finance Fund’s great resources on the topic here.

  9. As usual, Lucy Bernholz tells it like it is, in her argument that the current debate in American politics about shifting more of the burden of funding for core public services to private philanthropy is undemocratic.

  10. Jennifer Landres from the Center for High Impact Philanthropy finds some lessons for philanthropy in the movie “Moneyball.”

Photo Credit: JeffersonDavis

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This Week’s The Giving Show

I’m delighted to announce that I will be Michael Chatman’s guest on this week’s Giving Show. Michael was voted America’s Maverick Philanthropist and one of the nation’s leading authorities on new philanthropy. He heads the nation’s largest network of mission-related philanthropists giving up to $50,000 annually, The Association of Maverick Philanthropists.

Michael hosts a weekly radio show, called the Giving Show, the largest weekly audience devoted to the topic of philanthropy.

I’ll be Michael’s guest this week on Thursday, September 8th at 11:30am Eastern. You can click here to listen then.

We’ll be talking about Financing Not Fundraising, how to get your donors to be more effective, how philanthropy is changing, what the social entrepreneurship movement means for nonprofits and much more. I hope you’ll join us.

Click here to listen to the Giving Show on Thursday at 11:30am Eastern.

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