The 2014 Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation is now accepting applications. But don’t let the title fool you.

Yes, we will be giving a $100,000 prize to the social sector organization that best demonstrates Drucker’s definition of innovation—“change that creates a new dimension of performance.” But we won’t be rewarding innovation as an end in and of itself.

The key word here—as much as “innovation”—is “performance.” In particular, we’re looking for innovative programs that, in Drucker’s words, “have made a difference in the lives of the people they serve.”

“The test of an innovation is that it creates value,” Drucker wrote in Management Challenges for the 21st Century.

Boston Medical Center, last year’s Drucker Award winner, certainly understands that principle. Under its Reengineering the Discharge Process initiative, launched in 2003 and known as Project RED, patients are prepared for the days between their discharge and their first outpatient visit—a period, studies show, when poor communication and inadequate information often trigger new medical problems and readmissions to the hospital.

The spiral-bound booklet developed by a Boston Medical Center team lists needed medications, provides a color-coded calendar of upcoming appointments and tests, contains an illustrated description of the discharge diagnosis and explains what to do if a problem arises. The simplicity of the booklet’s design helps to make it accessible to those with limited health literacy.

But what really counts are the results: A randomized control trial, performed with 749 patients, found a 30% lower rate of hospital utilization in the RED intervention group compared with usual care within 30 days of discharge. One readmission or emergency department visit was prevented for every seven participants receiving the intervention.

Of course, we don’t just hold our Drucker Award applicants to a standard of high performance. We try to meet it ourselves.

To that end, in 2009 we redesigned our application so that those vying for the award would learn some of Drucker’s key insights on innovation along the way. And it has worked. Year after year, some 85% of applicants tell us that completing our application compelled them “to explore additional opportunities for innovation” in their work.

Building on this success, we plan to enhance the award process in the coming years to drive additional—and deeper—behavior change. Specifically, we intend to add webinars and other new forms of content as part of an expanded program platform. Nonprofits will then have the opportunity to amend their “living application” over time, demonstrating what they’ve learned.

“The best awards do a good job of bringing positive attention and legitimacy to a field or discipline,” Mario Morino writes in his book Leap of Reason, which calls for nonprofits to “manage to outcomes” and find a “reliable way to know whether they’re doing meaningful, measurable good for those they serve.”

One way to advance the field, Morino adds, “would be to build on the Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation.”

We are proud that Morino cited the Drucker Award. And we are firmly committed to moving down the path he calls for.



Rick Wartzman and Zach First
Executive Director and Managing Director