Dear Friend,

Every year about this time, we feel an extra compulsion to ask ourselves: What are we doing to be innovative?

The prod comes from our own call for applications for the $100,000 Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation. Given every year since 1991, the award recognizes social-sector programs that, in Drucker’s words, deliver “a new dimension of performance.”

Lest we live like cobbler’s children, the 700 or so submissions that we receive annually remind us how important it is to hold ourselves to that same standard. In fact, we’ve even been applying it to the award itself.

What began as a humdrum questionnaire for selecting the winning organizations has now become a powerful teaching tool. Here’s how we approached the reinvention of the application process, hewing to three of Drucker do’s and don’ts for innovation:

  • Successful innovators get out into the field, look at the market and talk to customers. In our case, when we interviewed award applicants to find out what they value, we discovered a real hunger for understanding Drucker’s ideas about innovation. The application now includes a primer on what innovation is, and how to pursue it.
  • To be effective, an innovation has to be simple, and it has to be focused. Every year, we hone the application form to better capture the information we really want to know. Less is more.
  • Measure innovative performance. Last year, more than 90% of applicants indicated that the process had, in fact, given them a better understanding of how their program was innovative. And nearly 90% were prompted by the application “to explore additional opportunities for innovation.”

Where does the award process go from here? We’re not entirely sure, but we do know this: The worst thing we could do is rest on our success. Innovation, as Drucker saw it, is nothing less than “constant renewal.”

Rick Wartzman and Zach First
Executive Director and Managing Director