We have reached the end of 2016, and a new year is before us. Have these months flown by for you, or crawled at a snail’s pace? Was 2016 a year full of victory, or a time marked with ongoing challenge? Most likely, it was a mix of both. We encourage you to take some time to reflect on this past year and all of the lessons learned while leading your nonprofit agency. Be intentional about writing down the highs and lows of the journey during the prior 12 months so that you can grow and change as a result of these experiences.

At this time each year, Brighter Strategies determines a theme for the New Year ahead. At the end of 2015, we saw sustainability emerge as a major theme in the nonprofit sector. Were you aiming for greater sustainability in your nonprofit this year? If so, how did you perform against this goal?

The focus for 2017 is all about innovation. Certainly innovation is a buzzword in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors and has been for quite some time. But despite the spotlight it has enjoyed, the concept is still somewhat ambiguous. Let’s examine the definition of innovation and some basic ideas for how you can begin to create a culture that champions innovation in your organization.

Innovation 101

Webster defines innovation as 1) a new idea, device, or method, and 2) the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods. We like to take this definition a step further, and suggest that innovation in organizations goes beyond a good idea, which some may label “creativity.” True innovation puts those good ideas to action.

Many of us have brilliant “aha moments” while we’re drifting off to sleep, showering, or exercising. In these moments our minds are free to wander, and creativity abounds. But how often do we actually act on such ideas? Unless we submit that million-dollar invention for a patent or share our breakthrough strategy with our CEO, those light bulbs flicker and eventually die.

Barriers to innovation

The most successful organizations are those that foster a culture of innovation on every level, with every role, and for every stakeholder. As a nonprofit leader concerned with creating an innovative culture, it is critical for you to spot certain barriers to innovation, and swiftly remove them. Such barriers include:

Fear of failure.

Employees who are afraid to fail will never take risks. And innovation cannot exist without the space for both risk-taking and failure.

Lack of organizational vision.

If stakeholders don’t know where your organization is going, how can they know what will get them there?

Lack of purpose.

When work has no meaning, employees are not engaged. When employees are not engaged, they invest little to nothing in improving the workplace.


Employees require an environment of autonomy for innovation to flourish and appropriate space to act on their radical ideas.

Compliance culture.

Many nonprofits cannot avoid certain regulations. However, when strict policies and procedures are in place for every operation, stakeholders do not have the freedom to question the status quo nor push their creative limits.

Creating a culture of innovation

Now that you understand what innovation is and how to identify some of its barriers, we’d like to leave you with a few practical steps that you can take now to start creating an organization culture that fosters innovation. Start the New Year off right by making the following a priority in your agency.

Cultivate trust.

Is your organization a safe place where employees feel that they can take risks, make mistakes, and not be fired as a result of failure? If not, you have some work to do, and it starts with developing trust. As we mentioned in a prior blog post, organizations are living systems and should be treated as such. Trust can grow and thrive systemically, and is the vehicle for an environment of innovation.

Model innovative behavior.

Show your employees that you are serious about creating a culture of innovation this year by exemplifying innovative behaviors. Communication is one key element to help drive innovation throughout the organization. Share often how you are innovating in your role, and spotlight others who are doing the same. It is especially important to celebrate those who took risks and failed.

Flatten silos.

Diverse perspectives and collaboration are important for innovation to thrive in any organization. To ensure free-flowing ideas, work across organizational boundaries to connect people and encourage their combined creativity to flourish into innovation. Perhaps this requires the development of cross-functional work teams or the merging of several departments. The less organizational hierarchy that exists, the easier it will be for innovation to live.

2017 is your year. Do you need help creating a culture of innovation in your organization? Brighter Strategies is here to assist. Whether you need executive coaching, leadership development, change management training, or strategy planning insight, we’ve got you covered. Learn more about our customized products and services here.