The increasing number of nonprofits exploring open Challenge programs and prize competitions led us to host a recent webinar titled, Challenging the World to Take Up Your Cause: Why Foundations and Nonprofits like Lumina Foundation are Harnessing Open Challenges and Prize Competitions. This webinar, which featured Kiko Suarez, Vice President of Communications and Innovation at Lumina Foundation (an InnoCentive client), and InnoCentive Director Siobhán Gibney Gomis, demonstrated how a well-designed Challenge can result in game-changing impact for foundations/nonprofits and their missions. You can view a replay of the webinar here.
There is certainly a time and place for Challenges as a tool in the nonprofit innovation toolbox – so when and where is it? The short answer depends on the stage of the innovation cycle you are in, and the situation you are in:
At the beginning: You’re starting to address a complex problem and want to consult the crowd on how to get started or a viable direction in which to head.
The Community Foundation of North Louisiana ran an Ideation Challenge looking for ways to tackle the problem of elementary (primary) school reading scores that were lower than standards in the rest of the country. Nearly 800 Solvers participated in the Challenge, and afterwards, Executive Director Paula Hickman of the Foundation was “elated to receive so many quality responses from so many corners of the world. A surprising aspect was that the educational challenges we face in our corner of Louisiana seem to be universal.” The Foundation is now headed in the direction of the winning solution, forming a collaboration with several other organizations to implement the idea.
In the middle: You don’t know what the solution is, nor who is best placed to solve it.
The Chordoma Foundation sought to find cell lines that could be used for research. The problem was that there were very few scientists focused on this disease. Explaining why the Foundation decided to tackle this problem with a prize program, Executive Director Josh Sommer explained: “We had $100,000 to work with. That would have been enough to fund 1-2 labs to attempt to develop chordoma cell lines. But it was not at all obvious who to fund. Instead, we wanted many labs to try their hand at developing chordoma cell lines; the more attempts, we thought, the more likely that at least someone would succeed. Because creating a cell line is a very clear deliverable and many labs are equipped to develop cell lines, we thought that a prize might just spur some labs to try.” Guess what? It did! Read more