5 lessons from the Nonprofit Innovation Camp #npicamp

This past weekend I attended Nonprofit InnovationCamp, an unconference initiative of the Canadian Nonprofit Innovators Network. I was volunteering as a note taker, which meant I got to take notes in the anal detail I enjoy and meet a wide variety of nonprofit innovators from across Canada.

Instead of giving a full post mortem (you can read notes from each of the sessions on the event wiki), here are key learnings I took from each session I attended.

My key takeaways from npicamp

People are becoming willing to work their heads around flexible work arrangements

In the Human Performance session, pitched by Bill Pratt of Saint Leonard’s Society of Nova Scotia, he shared his management practice with his senior leaders – Results-Only Work Environment. No hours, no lieu time, no over time. Just get the work done. Apparently his team reports working more hours, but enjoying work more.

I’ve come up with resistance to flexible work arrangements in the past – “but everyone will want to do it!” So? If people work better if they start at 11am, or have the flexibility to leave at 2pm for a doctors appointment, does it really matter as long as they are achieving and exceeding the objectives set out? As a group we didn’t sort out how this could work for hourly employees, people that are front line for specific office/site hours, or unionized environment, but me likes it. Hire staff you trust, make expectations clear, and watch magic happen.

Sometimes innovation needs to happen on purpose

Facilitator Erin Sharpe of STARS shared her role of actually getting paid to facilitate innovation at her organization. I believe “Director of New Ideas” is her actual title. Using a process called skunk works, she brings up to 7 people together, who are most impacted or have the most influence on a particular issue, to brainstorm solutions. The good ideas that float to the top get implemented. The group tossed around the value of having a champion lead the change vs. a collaborative, collective group, and the different skills required to brainstorm vs. project manage the change. Main takeaway: sometimes you need to make space for innovation. It’s not just about eureka moments.

Provocative questions are a draw

Wow! Did people come out to debate a quick series of difficult questions! From the role of religion in charity, to the impact of academia on practice, to government funding, we enjoyed a quick round of 30-60sec quips from participants on all sides of each debate. Nothing resolved, but it got the blood pumping. And as the note taker, some sore fingers.

There is still a huge knowledge gap around social media

Rebecca Vossepoel of pm-volunteers.org pitched a session to see what orgs were doing with social media, what was working, and questions people were having. Most of the orgs represented were using social media, but often with little strategy. Things like QR codes and RSS feeds were question marks for a few. Sighs of relief were audible when I shared that young people rate email as the preferred method of connecting with their favourite nonprofits. Some thought Twitter was about sharing what you had for lunch. I had my laptop out so showed what my Hootsuite feed looked like, and what sort of valuable links were being shared. It seems for many organizations, the social media surface is barely being scratched.

Old views on leadership still exist

I pitched a session on next generation staff engagement, calling bullshit on those that say there is a shortage of talent to lead the future of nonprofit organizations. A huge group came out to watch me take notes. The diverse participants talked about everything from succession planning, to the value of being a generalist vs. specialist, to transferable skills, to the opportunity for challenge, learning, and growth.

Coming out of the session, one of the other younger participants and I spoke further about a weird tension that existed in the room, dividing perspectives on new and old leadership models. While we both believed in personal leadership, leadership through doing, through self awareness, through understanding how your actions impact others, other more experienced people in and out of the room were talking about leadership as a position (though they tried to make it sound like a really warm fuzzy type of positional leadership) – “the leader is the one who has the vision, but they should make it a shared vision.” We talked about the future of EDs – what will organizational structure look like 30 years from now? I’ve discussed organization structure and the Millennial generation in the past. I don’t have the answer.

Carrying on the conversation

If you are interested in connecting with other nonprofit innovators in Canada beyond this camp, you can join the online network.