Someone once questioned if a product created by Ron Popeil, the iconic infomercial pitchman and product inventor, would ever be used. His famous response was that it wasn’t designed to be used; it was designed to be gifted. This, like many similar products that line store shelves, are not intended to be purchased by the eventual owner, but by a friend or family member looking for a present to give.
Very little of the revenue collected by nonprofits comes from the end users of their services. The man at a shelter, for example, doesn’t cover the cost for his soup and housing. The revenue comes largely from third parties like foundations and the government that never use the services and often have little in common with those being served.
To design a social services program, you need to create something both to be used and to be gifted. You need the man at the shelter to come back the second day and for the foundations to want to pay for the soup he is eating that they themselves have never tasted. So, you need to design the gift that feels good to give and that someone really wants–not easy.
But wait, there’s more!
It may not be easy, but plenty of organizations have designed a perfect gift. However, the added challenge is that beyond those two basic objectives, nonprofits want to also fulfill the promise of their own advertisement, as Pete York notes. It is not enough that their service is funded and used, they want it to actually make the impact that it espouses–to change someone’s life.
So, now you have to design the perfect gift that changes someone’s life. That is a much greater design challenge and yet another reason I believe that nonprofits have a lot to teach companies about innovation.
Aaron Hurst is the President & CEO at the Taproot Foundation.