Separating “Innovation” Fact from Fiction

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Many nonprofits are innovating, but lack the ability to move promising practices to scale because of a lack of funding, according to one of many findings from the latest “Listening Post Project” survey conducted by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies.

The center said the survey was conducted to examine nonprofits’ record of innovation and performance at a time when the Obama administration is calling on government and private funders to support “innovative” nonprofit programs that “work” to address social challenges. (See more on the government’s Social Innovation Fund here and here.) Of the 1,100 nonprofits in four fields – including children and family services – surveyed, 417 organizations responded.

Both new and established organizations are adopting innovative practices, the survey found, which were defined as addressing “a societal problem or [pursuing] a charitable mission that is more effective, efficient, sustainable or just than prevailing approaches.” But it found “the real problem with innovation in the nonprofit sector” is the need to equip groups with the resources “to scale the innovations up.”

Respondents also said the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation should reduce barriers to funding, such as burdensome federal reporting requirements, and address the lack of coordination among federal agencies and departments.