Innovation Doesn’t Happen Overnight: A Case Study
The nonprofits that are weathering through the current economic climate are doing so based on luck or, better yet, on high impact management. According to Heather Grant and Leslie Crutchfield, in their 2009 article for the Stanford Graduate School of Business, “…becoming a high-impact nonprofit is not just about building a great organization and then expanding it to reach more people. Rather, high-impact nonprofits work with and through organizations and individuals outside themselves to create more impact than they ever could have achieved
Please join me on May 15 at Nashville’s Belmont University for the 2012 Bridge to Excellence Conference, produced by the Center for Nonprofit Management. I’ll be leading a breakout session in the afternoon that is a case study of the Association for Visual Arts (AVA) in Chattanooga. Together with my successor and AVA’s current executive director, Anne Willson, we will walk through the steps taken over the past five years to create a social enterprise that offers value to community members ranging from art students to entrepreneurs.
AVA, a 501c3, has been promoting and supporting the visual arts and artists for 25 years. In the spring of 2007, AVA’s leadership paused to consider why arts audiences were declining rapidly nationwide. We learned that people were less interested in the traditional method of delivery. “As a result of the recent proliferation of communication technologies (iPods, video cameras, Internet, etc.) arts consumers have greater access to information and are no longer relying as heavily on the role of non-profit institutions and are spending their cultural dollars elsewhere.” 2
Based on this challenge, AVA questioned all aspects of its operations and reached beyond its walls to gain a fresh perspective. This research suggested that in order for AVA to deliver maximum impact, it should incorporate technology into its programming and deliver services to consumers on their terms. After minor construction to the Frazier Avenue space, AVA’s Media Lab opened for working artists, and the community-at-large, to access current technology, including: ten iMac computers complete with specialized software such as Photoshop, In Design, and Final Cut Studio, plus digital and video cameras.
The promise of AVA’s Media Lab was to serve as a hub for professionally-instructed classes, workshops, after-school programs, and summer institutes for the city’s artists and students. The unique offerings would focus on Website design, graphic design, digital photography, and video production and editing. In this session, you will learn which objectives are being realized and which ones are being reconsidered.
The AVA Media is just one example demonstrating how high impact innovation can occur. The process of this retooling effort was just as important as the product and it didn’t happen overnight. It also involved many individuals outside of the organization with the common goal of ensuring the support and growth of the visual arts and artists in Chattanooga.
Learn more about how the process unfolded along with the unexpected benefits that the process provided to the staff members who were charged with the project, as well as the partners who helped to make it happen. For registration information, go to http://www.cnm.org/Bridge-to-Excellence/2012-Nonprofit-Conference.aspx.
1 By Heather McLeod Grant & Leslie R. Crutchfield, “Creating High-Impact Nonprofits”, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall 2007 Stanford Graduate School of Business.
2 Critical Issues Facing the Arts in California, the James Irvine Foundation, September 2006.