Speakers from the GiveEasy Innovation Index Launch (L-R) Professor Nick Wailes, Jeremy Tobias, Luke Alexander, Charlotte Webb, Elise Taylor, Christine Nolan, David Spriggs.

The Australian not-for-profit sector is growing at unprecedented rates – approximately $200bn per year – highlighting the need for sector to harness innovation if it is to sustain performance and ultimately, continue to have social impact.

The 2017 GiveEasy Innovation Index released this month, shows promise, with the index jumping a remarkable 11.5 points in “stakeholder centricity”, one of eight areas measured by the index.

Frank Kennedy, Executive Director, AGSM Short Courses, a partner on the 2017 index says “The results of this year’s index are encouraging and clearly indicate an appetite to embrace innovation. The index has generated so many insights that are not only relevant to the NFP sector, but something industries across the board can gain from. In a volatile market the ability to truly innovate is a key source of competitive advantage.”

Innovation is so much more than a buzz word in this sector – in many cases it’s a matter of life or death for some of Australia’s most vulnerable.

Luke Alexander, Head of Communications, Cure Brain Cancer, awarded as a top 5 innovator in this year’s index, says “We have to innovate, not because it’s cool or to win awards, but because if we don’t, we will never increase the survival rate and our mission is very clear – to increase brain cancer survival rates from 20% to 50% in 2023. Some may think that’s crazy but it’s a challenge we think we will succeed in.”

So how can Australian NFPs harness innovation to continue to reach these critical targets into the future?

Alexander says NFPs need to start at the end, think about what success would look like and then go back to the beginning and look at the organisation and its culture.

“First, look at your mission and make sure it is very clear” says Alexander, “make sure every single person is on board with that mission.”

Secondly, he says the team need to be living the values every day.

“Our values are displayed around our organisation so that every day we think ‘how are you daring greatly’ how are you challenging the status quo – whether it’s through our research, fundraising or advocacy approach.”

And thirdly, he says, NFPs need to understand the marketplace beyond their slice of it.

“Spend time gathering insight, analysing your data and speaking to people. Look at the microtrends in society beyond brain cancer, beyond health.”

And once you are ready to start innovating and generating ideas, he says the key is to always challenge them. “Once you have an idea on the table – challenge it! If we are not challenging our ideas, how can we innovate?”

Frank Kennedy adds that it is also important that an innovation culture is filtered down through the organisation. “Innovation can’t just stay an aspiration – or sit at the top. There are so many opportunities for this sector to unleash previously untapped capabilities to create systems of innovation and a competitive edge to drive social and economic value” he says.

To launch the 2017 Give Easy Innovation Index report Luke Alexander, and leaders from Australia’s most innovative NFPs came together at the AGSM to discuss this key issue. Listen to the podcast now.

AGSM is a proud supporter of the GiveEasy Innovation Index in conjunction with Australia Post and Westpac. You can download the full index report here.