In my last piece, I made the point that nonprofits need to innovate to find better solutions for the problems they are addressing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: SEE PART 1 BELOW ⤵︎

A Roadmap to Solving Today’s Biggest Challenges (Part 1)

So, what does innovation really mean?

I told a friend the other night that I want to find ways for nonprofits to innovate. He, being a former tech entrepreneur and businessman…had a lot to say… He talked about how major conglomerates are collecting data across their entire operations. Looking in those data for trends across the economy and the world that will affect their business. For example, how would a disruption in steel production in China impact the cost of raisins in..well, wherever raisins are produced… It quickly became apparent to me that he was talking FAR beyond what I was thinking. He was right, though, to point out that nonprofits are far behind industry in so many fronts.

What does that mean for nonprofit innovations?

Well, innovation can come in (at least) 2 forms. 1) Finding brand new solutions to problems that have never existed; 2) Apply existing solutions to new arenas. Number 2 seems a more likely path for nonprofits to take.

What if there was a nonprofit, run by an actor, that used AI (artificial intelligence) and image recognition to locate children being abused? That would certainly be innovative in the anti-human trafficking, anti-child-porn, arena.

Even something as simple as applying general business principles or looking for ways to reduce the number of nonprofits would be innovative. Why reduce the number? This reduction could lead to increased talent in the remaining organizations, synergistic and reduced costs in operations, and reduced donor fatigue from the public who is being hit-up for donations all the time from duplicative organizations.

So, what can we do? How can we innovate in the nonprofit sector?

In this current proposal, my suggestion is to identify new ways to reach the goals we are pursuing. What if we could gather a bunch of people, representing “all” stakeholders, control the ego, and find new paths to follow?

What if we come up with the next Grammene Bank or Thorne? What if we came up with the next vending machine for the homeless? How do we design the next 4Ocean, a for-profit company cleaning the world’s oceans?

You know what, the vending machines didn’t work out in London. So, what’s next? Or what’s the fix to make it work better? Trying something and finding it doesn’t work as you expect is not a reason to quit. It’s often a reason to innovate, to try something different.


I’m looking for innovators of all stripes who want to identify unique and actionable solutions to today’s biggest problems. All you need is; 1) A passion to find solutions to help others; 2) A willingness to “throw out the playbook”; 3) An eagerness to be part of a pioneering team.

If you believe in the saying, “Don’t tell me why it won’t work, tell me how to make it work,” or “Those who say it is impossible should get out of the way of those of us who are doing it,” I’d love to connect and discuss possibilities. Let’s get together, build the ground floor and design this movement of catalysts to “Help others to help others”. Reach out to me below ⤵︎


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Susan Rooks

Where to even start with this, Mike? I’ve always liked knowing how things work, which obviously means I’ve learned a fair bit about how they don’t work. And when someone complains about it, I ask what they would do differently.

I don’t think I ever realized the power of not tying my request to a specific other way, but recently someone in our BIZ360 family wrote about open-ended questions, but not the typical kind. And for the life of me, I cannot remember who wrote it … but I remember thinking it was a terrific way to keep conversations truly open and innovative.

Rather than asking something like “Why not try it THIS way?” or “Why not try it THAT way?” the question would be even better as “How might you suggest changing it?” That would move the listener(s) from focusing on another specific way to thinking about ALL the ways that could be possible.

You keep challenging us, Mike! It’s good for all of us to keep our minds open to possibilities!

Michael Barnes
Michael Barnes

Thank you, Susan.

Most people explain why it can’t be done. Instead, ask “How can it be done?” and you’ll get much further. When I had a team, I always said, “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.” Meaning, if you see a problem, give me your take on a solution first. Even if you have no idea, your unique background and viewpoint may bring out the best solution ever. It’s even best if you’ve never been inculcated in the group think of almost every group in existence.

As a recovering scientist and academic, I would first suggest throwing out what all the “experts” and academics say. They think they have “the” way which prevents them from finding new ways. But that’s just my bias ;-)

I’ll have to find that post on BIZ360. I need that person on my team :D

Susan Rooks

Yes to all of that, Mike. And shockingly enough, I found the article; it’s by Sandy Chernoff, who was one of my first thoughts but I just wasn’t sure. Here’s the link: https://www.bizcatalyst360.com/why-should-leaders-ask-questions/

Michael Barnes
Michael Barnes

Thanks for finding and sharing.