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On Innovation: critical lessons business leaders can learn from non-profits (part 2)

Updated: May 6

In this 4-part series, we explore four critical areas of operation where business leaders could learn a great deal from innovative nonprofit leaders. In part 2 of the series, we’re talking about innovation, collaboration, and growth.

The typical relationship in which business leaders are positioned to teach non-profit leaders about the various aspects of running an organization misses a golden opportunity. Great non-profit leaders are experts at managing budgets, collaboration, innovation, engagement, and organizational culture. If business leaders explored the opportunity and were open to learning from the non-profit sector, it could affect a powerful impact on their organization.

Let’s explore innovation.


  • Share ideas to address complex challenges: Though there are some exceptions to this mentality, effective non-profits are incredibly generous about sharing their ideas, solutions, learnings, outcomes, mistakes, and achievements with other non-profits. We intentionally seek to learn from other organizations so that we don’t duplicate services and so that we can integrate new knowledge into our service development. We share knowledge for the betterment of society. The idea is that we all benefit from the learnings. We don’t hold on to our piece of the pie and guard it to squeeze all of the profits from our ideas; we share what we know because we understand we can create better solutions together as part of an ecosystem across sectors as well. We collaborate with each other to enhance services, save money and achieve stronger outcomes. Check out the “Sharing your secret sauce” section of Mike’s book ‘Building Unity’ where he explores this idea further.

  • Embody a collaborative mindset: Forging cross-sectoral partnerships is a common practice in the non-profit sector. We understand that working together can create an incredible synergy we couldn’t achieve on our own. Working in partnership not only helps us to deepen our understanding of the ecosystem within which we work, but it also helps us to see other perspectives and other ways of doing things. Partnerships are what make us great and help us achieve outcomes we could never accomplish on our own; we partner with government, corporates, grassroots organizations, other non-profits, communities, and more.

  • Grow with values: Mindful non-profits don’t grow or scale for the sake of it or in order to increase their budget. Many organizations stay small and local because their priorities and mission require it. And that is where they can have incredibly important and life-changing impact. So, when an organization grows, it is based on need and capacity. Growth is directed by the community rather than by a CEO. Not everything needs to be scaled! Only organizations that have done the work of serving, engaging, and creating impact can achieve meaningful growth. Growth can also be found in the form of depth and quality of work, not just in size.

A shift in mindset where competition and winning are de-prioritized under service, learning, and finding better solutions together, could help businesses forge deeper and more meaningful relationships with their customers AND their competitors.

Join us for Part 3 in this series when we discuss 'Engagement'.

This blog is a collaborative piece by EPIC team members Michael Prosserman and Tina de los Santos

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