CLAREMONT, Calif.—The Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University has announced the winners of the 2011 Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation.

Direct Relief International, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based humanitarian organization that provides essential medicines, health supplies and equipment to improve the health of people affected by poverty, disaster and civil unrest, is the recipient of the $100,000 first-place prize—an award made possible in large part through the generosity of The Coca-Cola Foundation.

The award recognizes, in particular, Direct Relief’s aggressive adaptation of information technology to better meet its mission. Specifically, through ongoing work with its network of healthcare providers worldwide, Direct Relief has built a commercial-grade IT system that has enabled a more precise, more targeted, more efficient and more expansive flow of donated medical goods to nonprofit healthcare facilities in more than 70 countries and across the United States. This innovation has resulted in an array of specific features for improving inventory management, warehousing, ordering and distributing goods.

This year’s second-place winner (to receive $7,500) is Beyond Shelter, a Los Angeles-based organization that has made strides in shifting the fundamental response to family homelessness from offering temporary shelter and services to re-housing homeless families as quickly as possible, and then providing them with a range of support services in permanent housing. Beyond Shelter’s pioneering Housing First program has successfully assisted more than 5,000 homeless families in Los Angeles County since its inception in the late 1980s. The third-place winner (to receive $5,000) is the Mona Foundation, a Kirkland, Wash.-based organization. One of its adopted projects, Digital Study Hall, is improving education for some 2,000 poor children at 21 schools across India. The program offers a number of innovative services, including a user-generated video-sharing system that allows village schools access to high-quality, interactive lessons on a variety of subjects. Students who participate in the program have shown a dramatic increase in their test scores and participation in class activities.

The Drucker Institute will honor and include the first-place winner and two runners-up at an Innovation Forum it is hosting on November 8-9 in Claremont. The forum will be an intimate, invitation-only event that brings together about 25 people from the corporate, nonprofit and public sectors whose jobs involve managing innovation inside their organizations. Together, they will collaborate on ideas to make innovation more systematic and effective.

In 2010, Direct Relief used its strengthened IT system—the result of what it calls “market research on the noncommercial market”—to better manage the distribution of $258 million in medical aid to healthcare providers in the U.S. and around the world. Healthcare providers, in turn, have been able to take advantage of Direct Relief’s state-of-the-art SAP software to reduce their own administrative burden, make more informed product requests and increase their ability to focus on patient care.

“One of the aims of the Drucker Award is to recognize organizations that, in Peter Drucker’s own words, are ‘making a real difference in the lives of the people they serve,’” said Rick Wartzman, executive director of the Drucker Institute. “That is certainly the case when it comes to Direct Relief International. Its fundamental insight—to take the best in private-sector technology and uniquely adapt it for the social sector—has greatly strengthened a weak link in the medical supply chain, filling what Drucker termed a ‘process need.’

“We hope that Direct Relief will prove to be an inspiration to other nonprofits, whatever fields they’re in,” Wartzman added. “Its efforts demonstrate that social-sector organizations can achieve the very highest levels of efficiency.”

The final judges for the Drucker Award were Wartzman; Cecilia Carter, vice president of global diversity, community and government affairs for Starbucks Coffee Co.; Jody Greenstone Miller, the founder and chief executive of Business Talent Group and a member of the Drucker Institute’s Board of Advisors; Geneva Johnson, secretary of the Leader to Leader Institute’s Board of Governors; Michelle Nunn, CEO of the Points of Light Institute; and C. William Pollard, chairman emeritus of ServiceMaster Co. and a member of the Drucker Institute Board. The judges were particularly impressed with Direct Relief’s effectiveness, noting that Direct Relief is the only nonprofit in the U.S. to be licensed to distribute pharmaceuticals in all 50 states.

“Direct Relief is deeply honored by the Drucker Institute’s recognition and so very thankful for the generous award that accompanies it,” said Thomas Tighe, president and CEO of Direct Relief International. “The astounding generosity of people who support Direct Relief’s work and the profoundly threatening circumstances faced by the people our organization serves provide a special, acute motivation to do more, do it better and do it more efficiently.”

The Drucker Award has been given annually since 1991 to recognize existing programs that meet Peter Drucker’s definition of innovation—“change that creates a new dimension of performance.” Cash prizes are designed to celebrate, inspire and further the work of innovative social-sector organizations based in the United States. Thanks to funding from The Coca-Cola Foundation, the first-place award will remain at $100,000 through at least 2015, up from the $35,000 prize of previous years.