Uber Philanthropy

I am a recent user and fan of Uber, a new app that allows you to immediately find a car service, visually track the car, communicate with the driver, and pay remotely. It's easy, reliable, fast, and consumer-driven.

I think philanthropy leaders can learn from Uber about how to innovate for greater impact. It's all about taking a standard practice we take for granted, turning it on its head, and radically improving the customer experience.  

That's what Uber did. We've all stood on street corners watching taxi after taxi drive by, wondering when and if one would ever become available. Uber took the obvious (a stressful, risky, and inefficient mode of transportation) and created a radically different customer experience (you select the type of car you want, tap a few buttons to request a car, it is available within minutes, you can communicate directly with the driver, you can watch his progress on a map on your phone, and you don't need cash or credit card in hand). 

Similarly, philanthropy leaders can identify practices we all take for granted, and brainstorm how they could be turned on their head to make them better-faster, smarter, easier, more impactful. For example:

  • Nonprofits write proposals to receive funding - What if funders had to make the case to nonprofits to accept their money and participate in their initiative?
  • Grantseekers remain in the dark about their proposal status until the foundation decides to share information - What if there was an online proposal tracking system so at any moment the grantseeker could click a button and identify the exact stage of proposal review?
  • Program officers bring all the expertise and "inside baseball" knowledge, and therefore they select grantees - What if grantees select program officers, or community experts offer just-in-time advice on all funding decisions?

I realize there are potential challenges with all of those ideas above. But before you pull out your fire hoses and begin hosing me down, acknowledge this: As funders we like to tell nonprofits that they need to innovate. But when is the last time we truly tried to innovate our own long-standing practices? We all can creatively re-think what we take for granted, and to turn them on their head for greater efficiency and impact.

This post was originally published in Putnam Consulting Group's e-newsletter. You can find the archive of the original post here.

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