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A young boy plays with an educational toy, sparking his interest in innovation and problem solving. Photo credit: Save the Children, 2015.

Future of Nonprofit Innovation

How do not-for-profits innovate?

Nonprofit organizations like Save the Children innovate by developing disruptive approaches to achieving their mission. The future of philanthropic innovation is now. Using proven methodologies from innovation incubators in the private sector, Save the Children is accelerating our progress in making strategic breakthroughs for children. If we find innovative solutions to the world’s biggest challenges for children, then we can ensure all children survive, learn, and are protected from violence.

How do not-for-profits innovate?

Ideation gate: Partners, operations, programs, products, marketing come together to identify needs and generate ideas to best meet the unmet needs of children.

To be considered for the innovation incubator, our experts submit an idea. First, they highlight the systemic and intractable barriers we face in accomplishing our goals for children. Then they detail how their idea would contribute towards finding a solution.

To reinvent and reinvigorate our efforts holistically, ideas can be programmatic, a new product, a new partnership, increase our brand awareness or improve our operations.

How do nonprofits more forward with innovative concepts?

Concept gate: Experts develop and validate concepts, asking critical questions such as is this viable? Is there exponential impact? Does this fit strategically?

Save the Children’s innovation team evaluates ideas, and the top ideas advance to the concept phase. Experts then dig deeper – thinking through how they will measure success, engage stakeholders and implement their pilot.

Concept notes provide a rationale for a path to sustainability, project return on investment and demonstrate where their idea fits in the existing ecosystem. And they answer the big questions – is this an evolutionary or revolutionary innovation? Does it have the potential for disruption?

How do nonprofit organizations pilot disruptive innovations?

Pilot gate: To introduce and optimize pilots, it’s important to ask … Is there a clear project deployment plan? Is it within our capabilities? Do we have the ability to demonstrate results?

A select group of finalists pitch their concepts to a council of internal and external experts. Our experts provide their vision and leadership, helping us move from theory to practice and ensuring concepts are aligned with our overall organizational strategy.

Concept notes with the most promise are awarded seed funding, and move into the pilot phase. Our innovation pilots test for proof of concept for 1-2 years. Results and learning are then analyzed and shared with staff and our partners.

How do philanthropic organizations scale and replicate innovative disruptions?

Scalability gate: Ask key questions … is this cost-effective at scale? What is the strength of our partner networks? How can we fail fast and determine whether to end or retest the project? After piloting is complete, projects live the incubator pipeline. Replication and scaling phase partnerships are built.

If data from an innovation pilot demonstrates proof of concept, we look for opportunities to scale and replicate. As pilots move out of the incubator, we adapt and adopt their learnings to benefit greater numbers of children.

Experts continue refining and enhancing their existing idea, supporting additional testing, or expanding the pilot to new contexts and locations. Our partners provide the skills, networks and resources we need to refine, replicate, and scale the most promising innovations for children.

If leading partners like you invest, act, and think boldly, we can ensure we are giving more children a chance at survival, education and protection – so they have the future they deserve. There are many ways you can partner with us, from early stage investments in bold new ideas, to engaging our global experts in product R&D, or building the evidence we need to keep global best practices on the leading edge. It is only through new innovations that we will truly be able to change the world for the most marginalized children. We invite you to join us.

Review our current roster of innovations to see what your investment could support.

Partner Testimonials

Niels Buning, Venture Manager, Philips Africa Innovation Hub.

"The advancement of the SDGs is driven by equitable innovation strategies and closer engagements between the public and private sector, to create more equitable access to quality health-care services. Our joint research partnership, focused on children’s automated respiration monitoring to aid in the improvement of diagnosing pneumonia in low-resource settings, is a great example of this. The coming together of resources and capabilities have resulted in a meaningful and impactful research project.”
Niels Buning, Venture Manager, Philips Africa Innovation Hub

Jacqueline Fuller, Director at Google.

"At, we support innovative organizations who are using new approaches to tackle humanitarian challenges. While Save the Children has nearly a 100-year history of working to change the way the world treats children, it is among our most innovative and forward-thinking partners. We are proud to support its work.”
Jacqueline Fuller, Director of

Caroline Roan, Vice President, Corporate Responsibility Pfizer Inc. President, The Pfizer Foundation.

“We are pleased to partner with Save the Children on innovative approaches to improving access to immunization and family planning services for women and children in Malawi. Our multi-dimensional partnership with Save is built on a foundation of shared goals in expanding access to quality healthcare for women and children, a commitment to innovation and iteration in our approach, and strong monitoring and evaluation systems to understand impact.”
Caroline Roan, Vice President, Corporate Responsibility Pfizer Inc. President, The Pfizer Foundation