In the for-profit world, innovation is the only true sustainable competitive advantage. But for too long, nonprofits did not consider innovation to be an important part of their strategic plans. Not anymore.
Nonprofit executives today recognize that innovation is as important to their operations as it is to the margin of any business looking to maximize profits. And the market is responding.
For example, many corporations are eschewing just cutting a check and instead collecting and donating items that meet the needs of the selected nonprofit. Citizens Bank, for instance, in addition to its long-established Gear for Grades program that supplies 14,000 backpacks to various programs in Rhode Island, supports the volunteer efforts of its employees at their chosen causes. In 2011, the bank calculated the value of that volunteering to be $160,000.
The Washington Trust Co. has been running a peanut butter drive for a decade, collecting and then donating to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank more than 100 tons of the staple over the years. But the bank is far from alone. And given the economic situation, that is a good thing. In its most recent fiscal year, the United Way of Rhode Island took about 80,000 food-related calls, nearly double the number from the year before.
Many nonprofits have created for-profit arms over the years to generate revenue to support their social service activities but also to offer job-training activities to their clients. Amos House runs a café, a catering company and produces a baked-goods line that employ 25 to 30 clients at a time, people who often are homeless and in need of improved job skills.
These stories and more are proof that Rhode Island’s nonprofit and for-profit communities are not just meeting the needs of its most vulnerable, but are doing a better job of it every day.