Many legacy nonprofits suffer from a cliché image. They diligently support the original clientele that inspired their formation, but millennial donors do not identify with their legacy missions. Rather, young donors are concerned with society’s current challenges.
- The pandemic continues, seemingly unending.
- Inflation and supply chain shortages have snagged all sorts of businesses and products, affecting our daily lives.
- Big Tech continues to meddle in many of our daily interactions, injecting bias into tasks like mortgage applications and proliferating misinformation that can cause real-world harm.
- Our oceans are under threat—not only from plastic pollution, some 8 million tons of which enters our oceans every year, but also from increasing warming and acidification that bleaches coral reefs and threatens food security.
- Bigger, stronger storms like hurricanes are just one of the many natural disasters brought on by climate change that tend to hit already-disparaged communities the hardest.
Flexible Nonprofits Innovate
In times of crisis, we tend to rely heavily on philanthropy, turning to nonprofits to fill in the gaps that go unaddressed or under-funded by other social safety nets. Since the start of the pandemic and its aftermath, nonprofits have been quick to innovate to address new challenges.
For years, Baby2Baby has provided children living in poverty with diapers, but in 2021 demand hit an all-time high when the nonprofit received requests for 731 million diapers, a 505% increase compared with pre-pandemic times. With a young donor base behind them all the way, the nonprofit’s practitioners kicked into gear to fashion an innovative manufacturing and distribution capability never seen in this nonprofit segment.
- Charity: Water
For decades, the nonprofit community has responded to the desperate need of rural communities in Africa and India for clean drinking water. Millions of dollars have been donated and put to work building innovative wellheads across both continents. A simple “foolproof” manual technology was designed so that the pumps would work even in rural areas where there was no electricity. (Many were playground designs that enabled children to push a “merry-go-round” that pumped water up from a well below.) This program was at first a resounding success until the manual pumping mechanisms began to break and the simple, impoverished people had no idea how to repair them. They would abandon the wellhead and go back to hauling water up from the river in jars the women carried on their heads. In remote areas, rural water systems are difficult to monitor, site visits can be rare, and pump failures can persist for months.
Charity: Water, a nonprofit that provides drinking water access to developing countries, is changing that with water sensors. In 2021, it unveiled its India Mark II Handpump Sensor, which installs in about 15 minutes and uses cloud computing to analyze and email out relevant data (like liters pumped per hour), so the nonprofit can detect any water flow stops or shortages and, when necessary, dispatch a technician to make repairs. At just $250, and the ability to last 10 years without a battery change, the sensor will allow Charity: Water to monitor its more than 79,000 water projects remotely.
Micro lending has been around for a long time in third world countries. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts sounded the death knell for many small businesses right here in the United States. For DreamSpring, a nonprofit community lender focused on underserved entrepreneurs, it was a moment to provide “economic triage.” The nonprofit focused on micro-businesses that often struggle to access credit or loans. Many mainstream lenders didn’t even make the small-dollar Paycheck Protection Program loans these businesses needed. With its new proprietary online lending platform, DreamSpring was able to quickly customize loans, find fintech and bank partners to help the nonprofit access PPP applications, and scale its lending to reach those vulnerable micro-businesses. The nonprofit expanded its service area from five states to 19, and its lending rose from 1,567 loans issued in all of 2019 to 26,080 loans issued in just the first eight months of 2021.
Ready, Willing & Able
We cite the three innovative nonprofits above as examples only. Many more nonprofits are innovating around their core mission in response to the needs of modern society.