Montana Nonprofit Association (MNA) is excited to welcome a new member Adam Jespersen, Director of Nonprofit Innovation, to its team. Adam will lead the Nonprofit Innovation Lab created in partnership between MNA and Headwaters Foundation. With a steady demeanor, acute attention to detail, and some serious Excel skills, Adam comes to MNA after more than a decade of progressive experience in nonprofit leadership, fundraising, grant writing, and performance management, most recently serving as Chief Operating Officer for Intermountain. Adam grew up in rural Montana, has a Bachelor of Arts from Carroll College, and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Montana. He also comes to MNA with both formal training and hands-on experience leading Lean Management and performance improvement initiatives. A fervent lover of hiking, skiing, and all things Montana, Adam lives in Helena with his wife and two daughters.
MNA recently sat down with Adam to discuss innovation and all that goes along with it:
“Innovation” is a pretty common buzzword in today’s business lexicon? How do you define it in this context?
It’s tempting to think of innovation as occurring through some sort of genius idea or “Aha!” moment, like Sir Isaac Newton discovering gravity by having an apple fall on his head. Sadly, the reality is far less exciting. In reality, innovation is most always achieved one hard-earned step at a time through disciplined collaboration, trial and error, and perseverance. As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said, “Every overnight success takes ten years.”
The Innovation Lab will be the ecosystem through which that disciplined work can take place. It becomes the place where nonprofits can ask “What if?” and then follow it up with “How can we test that?” and “How can we scale that?” It is also the forum through which diverse people, missions, and ideas can come together safely and with purpose to create something that would be impossible alone.
What excites you most about this new initiative?
To me, it’s simply that there is now dedicated time, resources, and manpower to this idea of innovation, collaboration, and change. Those of us in the nonprofit world (and elsewhere) would most likely unanimously agree that we need to improve our systems, processes, and ways of doing work for our organizations to reach their potential. But we would also agree that it typically doesn’t happen because of lack of time, resources, or leadership to spearhead the efforts. This initiative – the Nonprofit Innovation Lab – is simply the recognition that the nonprofit sector needs to be resourced with time, manpower, and funding in order to make and sustain meaningful change.
What are the first steps to launch this initiative in Montana?
My first, second, and third priorities right now are simply to listen and to learn. Two fundamental values of both MNA and the Innovation Lab are that 1) nonprofits know best what their most pervasive challenges are and 2) they most often are also the best source of solutions
for those challenges. Thus, this first phase is simply to start listening and doing a deep dive into learning what’s happening across the state.
It’s a bit unnerving to say at the outset that I don’t know where this initiative is going to ultimately end up. But I am extremely confident that it will become a very valuable resource to the whole nonprofit sector if approached with the utmost respect toward those doing the work on a daily basis and with the belief that scalable solutions are most likely to sprout organically from those on the front lines, one hard-earned step at a time.