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What Holds Us Back & What Moves Us Forward: Top 7 Takeaways from Expedition Impact

By Kate Mirkin August 9, 2017

At the end of July, we got together with nearly 100 trailblazers from nonprofit organizations like Childfund International, Human Rights Watch, and the Wildlife Conservation Society to talk about technology and how to drive innovation from within an organization. It was an inspiring day full of networking, learning, and engaging discussions about creating impact in today’s world.

Here are our top 7 takeaways from the day:

1. The rising tide of social change

Rob Acker, the CEO of, kicked off the day to talk about how we are living in the middle of an intelligence revolution. This means that we can organize communities and constituents like never before with the data that we have available to us. It’s our responsibility to meet the challenge head on of the rising tide of social change as citizens and corporations are focused more and more creating change in the world. As nonprofit trailblazers, we need to be focused on delivering impact in new, innovative, and meaningful ways to a constituents base that cares more than ever on how they invest their time and money. Watch Rob’s remarks.

2. Not all nonprofits are created equal ― but data and technology can level the playing field

Expedition Impact Jacob Herald, the CEO of Guidestar, an organization that strives to revolutionize philanthropy through data transparency, stunned the audience with the somewhat controversial statement that some nonprofits and donors are better than others. We’re seeing this in the immense transformation in civil society and the professionalization of the business of doing good. However, technology has the ability to play a huge role in fueling smart philanthropy. More transparency deepens the trust that donors have in the organization ― to the tune of $380 billion a year in the US! The right data can help nonprofits identify the issues, organize to address them, and secure the resources to make it successful. Watch Jacob’s talk.

3. The way we organize information embeds biases that can hurt us

Jacob joined many thought leaders in discouraging nonprofits from falling prey to, and letting their boards and donors believe in, the overhead myth. This myth focused on the idea that the goal of a nonprofit should be to keep overhead costs as low as possible so that the most possible donor money goes directly to the recipient ― and the percentage of funds spent on overhead is commonly the first metric that nonprofits report. We learned that if we want to stop focusing our donors on our overhead, we should be sharing more meaningful metrics. The first step in this is to create data standards in the industry, so that the numbers we share are meaningful across organizations for donors to make important decisions. Let’s share our results, our impact, our progress in a way that’s meaningful to our donors, to journalists, to constituents ― and let those numbers speak for the work we’re doing and the impact we’re making.

4. Orthodoxies are holding us back

Some folks from the Ignite and Innovation teams came by, and challenged the group to think about the orthodoxies. Orthodoxies are a mindset or an assumption that cause us to say “that’s just how things are done around here” and they can limit our ability to really see what is possible for our organizations. Holding on to orthodoxies and commonly held but limiting beliefs sets an NGO up for vulnerabilities like not being able to fulfill on their mission, criticism and loss of support for not providing more mission based services. Challenging these orthodoxies opened up the conversation to what was possible, which was key as we took on the rest of the day!

Expedition Impact Your Digital Strategy

5. Make digital strategy easy, fun, and inclusive!

Jeanne Ross, organizational theorist and scientist specialist in Enterprise Architecture, ICT, and Management, came to talk to us before lunch, and challenged everyone to think about what our constituents actually needed from us? We’re all worried about our digital strategy, but we need to focus on what we will provide, and what we might have partners that could provide. She talked about integration, and the value that an organization can realize from integrating services of processes that had never been integrated before and bringing them together in context. “Give people an easier way to solve their problem and you’ve really got something,” she encouraged the group. Engaging our constituents with digitized solutions is key to having a successful digital strategy ― and not having a digital strategy really isn’t an option in today’s connected world! But in order to have a strategy, we need to be thinking about our constituents’ needs. The path forward was through transformation, not tinkering, which was great as we went into the afternoon activity!

6. Innovation can make moments of engagement magical

Expedition ImpactWe spent the afternoon in a hands-on workshop thinking about the personas and obstacles nonprofit leaders face. We were challenged to imagine what it would be like without the pains we all suffer through every day. We looked at the world through the lens of four different personas in the nonprofit world. This approach, called Design Thinking, allowed us to examine their moments of engagement with our organization, empathize with these individual’s pain points, and prioritize those pains according to significance and impact.

We then leveraged inspirations from some of the best digital consumer experiences across mobility, transparency, speed and simplicity, and collaboration. We were able to quickly create some great ideas on how these concepts could be applied to address the pain points we mapped out for our personae.

Expedition Impact RoundtableNext we broke the down the problem and solution into simple concepts and even created the front page of an application which could potentially transform the experience.

Creativity is thinking new things. Innovation is doing new things. This took us into the last session of the day, where we learned how we could lead for innovation to be able to truly transform our organizations and the mission.

7. Dedication to innovation is key to transformation

Geoffrey Moore, organizational theorist, management consultant, and best-selling author, came to speak to to the group to close out the day and share his decades of experience in marketing and innovation with us. We learned about why organizations today need to innovate, the importance of having a team dedicated to this innovation, and the kind of expectations to place on that team ― namely, to give them the freedom to be innovative instead of imposing the productivity standards of our everyday business. As we think about how we want to transform our organizations, this perspective was key! Watch Geoffrey’s talk.

Thank you to all of the trailblazers who attended. Look out for more content from Expedition Impact in the coming weeks!

Check out the free Expedition Impact e-book on conquering Nonprofit Program Management challenges.

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