How to Survive Today and Thrive Tomorrow

Chantal Sheehan is a speaker at Cause Camp 2020

Oh, 2020. It started off strong, but by March, our world had been turned upside down by the ‘Rona. While we’re all learning how to live, work and play (at home, all together, all the time, aah!!) those of us in the nonprofit sector may soon be struggling to survive. So how can nonprofits set themselves up to thrive, not just survive, 2020 and beyond?

Disruption: your new bff

A disruptive, innovative approach to your nonprofit’s operations is key. Thankfully, the theme of Cause Camp 2020 is disruption. (I wonder if Randy has a crystal ball up there somewhere in Nebraska?!) In order to apply disruptive ideas to any situation, we must first understand what the term truly means. 

According to Wikipedia, “A disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network.” Some good examples of disruptive innovations are streaming video (thanks, Netflix!) and downloadable digital music (through platforms like Amazon or iTunes). Streaming video replaced video rental services and downloadable music replaced the CD market. Try to describe the concept of Blockbuster and late fees on a rental (remember running to return videos before the store closed??) to a Gen Z-er and you’ll see just how quickly their eyes glaze over – a sign that disruptive innovation results in swift and permanent change. 

How to spot a disruptive idea

What are some hallmarks of disruptive ideas? They often:

  • Shatter or break stereotypes or archetypes
  • Appeal to a new market or target audience 
  • Create a new market
  • Are more cost-effective to produce or deliver
  • Have lower financial barriers to entry for the client or customer

If we were to apply these attributes to the nonprofit sector, one great example of a nonprofit disruption is in the arts, specifically opera. The Metropolitan Opera in New York City, AKA the Met, has long been hailed as one of the most prestigious opera companies in the world. If you wanted to see the Met perform, your only option was to travel to New York City and pay a pretty penny for a ticket. 

But that all changed in 2006 when their new general manager put forth the idea to stream to audiences at movie theaters around the country. It was a revelation. People around the US could go to a local movie theater and buy a ticket to a Met show for $5-10, creating a new market for not only the Met, but for opera companies everywhere who might wish to do the same. Suddenly, something available to only elites was accessible to all of us.

The perfect time for action

Disruption and innovation are about creativity, thinking outside the box, and ultimately, taking risks. Our culture is full of clichés to help us feel better about taking risks…

  • “It’s a leap of faith.”
  • “No risk, no reward.”
  • “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
  • “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

In this case, I tend to think the clichés are rooted in some truth. In order for us to, not just survive, but thrive in difficult times, we must push ourselves to do things we never thought we would or could do. As nonprofit leaders, you must push your teams to do the same in order to ensure mission survival. 

COVID-19, a global pandemic. An election year. A global and marked increase in climate change-related catastrophe. A census year. A global economic downturn. A decrease in private philanthropy. 

Don’t throw your computer out the window but I have to say it and hope you’ll agree: These are unprecedented times. 

We cannot face crazy times we’ve never faced before with the same old reactions and solutions that we’ve always used. 

It’s time to innovate, friends. It’s time to consider new and unusual ideas and actions that will help us move forward as a community. In our session at Cause Camp, we’ll use real-world examples of disruption and innovation, along with the latest nonprofit trends, to talk through specific strategies you can employ to ensure your mission thrives in 2020 and beyond. See you there!


Chantal Sheehan

Chantal Sheehan is the Founder and CEO of Blue Fox, a company on a mission to disrupt the traditional accounting model through technology, innovation, and a radically client-centered approach that empowers nonprofits and social enterprises. An avid blogger with over 15 years executive-level experience across the private and public sectors, she spices up the topic of financial management in publications for, Bloomerang, and Hive. A recovering nonprofit executive director herself, Chantal started Blue Fox in 2015, and the company has doubled or tripled in size each year in response to high demand.

September 22, 2020

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