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There are buzzwords that pop up every few years and that become part of the nonprofit/public sector lexicon. Evaluation. Evidence-based. Scalable model. Innovation. Innovation is an interesting word because it could mean so many different things. What makes a program or organization innovative? There is no common standard and should organizations be scrambling to do something innovative vs. what has been successful in the past? Let’s think about some do’s and don’ts concerning innovation and what should be considered when applying for funding or thinking about marketing your program(s) or organization.

Let’s think about the definition we want to use regarding innovation. How about this one from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Innovation is the introduction of something new or a new idea, method, or device: novelty. The operative word here is “new” so think about that in the context of your own work.


1) Outline your key differentiators. This exercise is helpful not just for grant writing, but organizational assessments and strategic planning. What makes your organization successful (or not successful)?

2) Determine if there are new approaches to being successful. Innovation does not have to be something trending now in the sector but could be a successful practice to be adopted by your organization.

3) Gather evidence. Have you reviewed the data that you have available to determine if you need to become more innovative? What about lessons learned? Do you need additional resources in order to have more impactful results?



1) Change a successful path. If you are a tried and true housing organization and that is what works, stick to that. Don’t change for the sake of changing unless your results do not match your efforts.

2) Move forward without a plan. Think before you start working on a new program – are you using evidence-based practices? Does this align with your mission? If you do pursue a different path, this can take years so map out a strategy and ensure buy-in from leadership and staff.

3) Use buzzwords that have no meaning. A truly innovative program or project may take your organization down a different path. Are you ready to make a change? Are you using the word “innovation” just because it sounds good?

True innovation will lead to longstanding changes in your community. Don’t confuse impact and innovation – these two terms are mutually exclusive (but can overlap).

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