February 01. 2013 10:00AM - Last modified: February 01. 2013 10:12AM

McMahon emphasizes adaptability at innovation conference

As nonprofit organizations face greater challenges with cuts in funding and increased demand for services, Christine McMahon encourages nonprofit leaders to examine how they are preparing their organizations to adapt to the changing climate.

McMahon, BizTimes columnist and business strategist, recently spoke at an innovation conference presented by the Milwaukee Center for Independence (MCFI) and the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee.

Geared specifically toward innovation in the nonprofit community, the conference – "Transform the Agenda: Creating an Innovative Culture at Your Nonprofit" – addressed ways for nonprofits to keep pace with the changing world.

"We're living in exponential times," McMahon said. "It's the new norm, and there's no way to escape it."

Leaders need to be taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture of the economy, the community and the ways that their organization impacts and is impacted by both, McMahon said.

"As leaders we get mired in the muck of the business," she said.

Organizations' success also relies heavily on their adaptability and flexibility, no matter their size, according to McMahon.

Organizations that are most successful overtime embrace a process called continuous renewal, she said.

Within continuous renewal, organizations must remain flexible and continuously reflect on their business and operational strategies in meeting the needs of the populations they serve.

"You have to constantly be thinking about where are we going to be in the next several years," said Nan Bialek, director of communications at MCFI, after the conference. "You have to constantly be thinking strategically and not wait for a crisis to happen."

McMahon also encouraged audience members to re-evaluate the habits they have developed within their organization and how those habits stimulate innovation and communication among staff members.

All staff should be involved in the innovation process, according to McMahon.

"A leader's role is not necessarily to come up with the innovative ideas but rather to foster an environment where ideas germinate, are captures, and there is a process for vetting out the ideas," she said.

About 45 nonprofit leaders from greater Milwaukee attended the conference, held Tuesday, Jan. 29, at the MCFI Conference Center. The conference also included a panel of nonprofit leaders discussing innovation efforts within their own organizations.