Seth Godin on Innovation, Failure and Why Non-profits Should Stop Operating like Businesses

Non-profit Innovation


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Seth Godin has some firm beliefs and thoughtful insights when it comes to how non-profits can (and should) change the world.

Back in January of 2008 he told us (the non-profit sector) that we should be looking to use the internet in new and innovative ways to build community and engage our supporters because direct mail, although still a huge revenue source, was beginning to show signs of fatigue.

More recently Godin spoke with the Chronicle of Philanthropy about Innovation, Failure and Why Non-profits should stop operating like businesses. I though you’d enjoy the interview.

After I watched that I immediately thought about what fundraising looks like today and how the internet and digital communication has affected the non-profit sector over the years. Here’s a quick peek into some key statistics.

[Troublesome] Fundraising Stats

  1. First Year Donor Retention is 29.3%
  2. Fundraising Email Response Rate is 0.13%
  3. 67% of donors plan to eliminate or reduce support to nonprofits that over‐solicit
  4. Only 26% of Nonprofits Rated their Websites Very Effective
  5. Recurring Gift Donors only accounted for 10% of all US Donors

You can read more about these stats and find the source studies over at Non-profit Trends. My buddy Steve does a great job keeping us all on our toes by bubbling up useful data points for us to evaluate as we continue to figure out how to use the internet in the non-profit sector.

My Question to You

Taking into account the post from Godin in 2008, his recent interview and the semi-troublesome statistics above … How can we continue to innovate in 2011? How can we continue to push the limits of the internet, social media, online fundraising, email communication, etc?

Or maybe a better way to think about the situation is to surface the things that have worked? The ways non-profits have innovated in the past two years?

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  • Stefan Mayo

    The very last question and reply is the best segment.

  • http://www.netwitsthinktank.com frank barry

    Thanks for stopping by Stefan!

  • http://twitter.com/msirkin Marc Sirkin

    The problem is that we’re all locked into one mindset and Godin is about 10 steps ahead of us. It’s sort of like explaining quantum physics to an earthworm. I’d like to agree with him 100% but to also add that there is no way to jump to the end without going through a transformation. What Godin is talking about is really, really hard stuff. I like the idea of failing fast, but the reality is that failing feels like crap if you aren’t in a situation where it’s celebrated. And.. even if you are failing in good ways, it’s still failing to some people.

    Frank, here’s my answer to your question about innovating… forget about it. Let’s get back to the roots of non-profit and charity – and change the world by talking to our donors and our communities. Let’s stop for a moment and forget process charts and ROI and deeply engage our constituents, fans, followers and friends and commit to keep that conversation going and on-going. If that’s innovation, then I’m in.

  • Anonymous

    Great post!

    There are a number of ways I’d like to innovate at the nonprofit I work at. I call it my “wish list.” (1) Implement QR codes on print collaterol to that people can scan-in to a donation page, a video, an event registration site or a game we’ve created for a campaign. (2) Provide our online constituents with tools they can use on social media so that they feel more instrumental in the growth of the organization and it’s efforts.

  • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

    Thoroughly enjoyable post! Given the inspiration, I was pleasantly surprised! LOL.

  • http://www.netwitsthinktank.com frank barry

    Thanks for stopping in Geoff … but now you’ve got me wondering about the inspiration :) … maybe I should write a post about how all non-profits should listen to SG so you’ll come by and elaborate on your thought a bit :)

  • http://www.netwitsthinktank.com frank barry

    I love the fact that you are excited to experiment and try new things!!

    I’ve seen some cool uses for QR Codes lately. Actually, on a flight home yesterday I saw one in the FastCompany magazine – thought it was a cool idea that non-profits could implement in their print material.

    Have you thought about or tried to organize a team of your supporters who are active online? Sort of like a social media volunteer team? I’ve not seen anyone do this, but I think it could be a very cool way to approach engaging volunteers who are active on the social web – essentially extending your reach.

  • http://www.netwitsthinktank.com frank barry

    I hear ya. It’s easy to get caught up in the rat-race (for lack of a better term) of tech. innovation – continually trying to use the new shinny object so that you (non-profits) can become more effective.

    At the end of the day, it’s really all about making real impact.

    I listened to the Executives at Crisis Ministries out of CHS speak this week. They use tech. and all that, but at the end of the day it’s the real life, in person, face to face serving that they do each and every day that changes lives. Without that everything else is pointless.

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