Skylance is a skunkworks for the 21st century changemaker. It's where design thinking, process design, and hybrid approaches to wicked societal problems collide with nonprofit strategy.

ReFraming 21st Century Nonprofit Leadership

Is anyone else wondering where the mainstream nonprofit leadership conversation is going these days?


Not too long ago were proposals for theories and frameworks and best practices.

All valid points, but haven't we always been deluged with best practices and frameworks for the longest time now?

Sadly, in response, the deja vu sinks in as I see the same suspiscious pitches from formal programs and courses that supposedly "teach" nonprofits to become more:

  • entrepreneurial
  • adaptive
  • innovative
  • business-like
  • effective
  • collaborative
  • "strategic."

This leaves me wondering about the substance under the layers of cliches and platitudes.

The mainstream conversation hasn't flatlined, but the radio noise will always be around.

For you vexed adaptive/hybrid practitioners and observers who have encountered the same

What Books Must Design-Inspired Nonprofit Leaders Read?

I love reading up on new insights and methods especially if it's going to advance the way we do things in the field.

But one challenge of adaptive learning is making sense of what to read and why.


See, there's lots of books on culture building, creativity, innovation, process design, design thinking, and strategy, and while the subject matter might be relevant, these books usually fall in two distinct camps:

  1. Those with the same worn messages already repeated by other books
  2. Those with something new, unique, and useful to say

I won't be interested in the former, but the latter. I've also avoided anything written explicitly about "nonprofit strategy" or "strategic planning." Ironically, a lot of them just don't have

How to Sense Bullshit in any Nonprofit Strategic Plan

If there was one cause 21st century changemakers must stand for, it's bullshit-free strategy.


In a recent discussion, someone had asked about the tools and methodologies used to create a strategic plan. Anyway, I always find these strategic planning discussions a little startling. It's usually really easy to categorize the typical responses that pile in:

  • SWOTs
  • More SWOTs
  • Online tools and software (For real!?)

Suspicious yet? Other mnemonic frameworks like PESTLE, STEEPLE, and GROW were mentioned, but whatever scans are done, scan should be an active verb. All day, everyday.

Done away from the office, of course.

Design-oriented, lean-acquainted practitioners would be baffled by the over-recommendation of SWOTS. Additionally, what about:

  1. Process? What's really being done before and after the

Lean Nonprofit Strategy

Applying lean startup principles to nonprofit strategy — Is that a thing yet? Because it should be. I observed a recent discussion that asked about keeping strategic plans alive. These conversations dry up fast. I mean, another topic on nonprofit strategic planning?


But the language was succinct and clear. Well, most of it. No one explicitly mentioned lean startup methods, but the crux of the conversation was to, yes, make the time for strategy, but shift the focus into clarity, practicality, and simplicity.

As for the other comments? I got lost with the gobbledygook to even figure out where they stood on the matter. I think they agreed — or maybe not? I couldn't tell.

Clarity, practicality, simplicity? OK. But we should've

Designing a Better Nonprofit Business Model, Part 2

In part 1, I explained the concept of the business model canvas and how it can be leveraged by nonprofits to diagnose and quickly map out their current business model.


Why visualize your business model? Or, why use visualization techniques at all? There's a two-pronged benefit. First, visualization tames everything in a language that everyone can understand. This opens the door to co-creativity. It simplifies complex concepts and then unifies all stakeholders into collaboration. Second, it propels any kind of hypothesis or problem into a new dimension: Rather than thinking linearly or using prescribed one-way methods, visualization considers the space around the problem. Innovative solutions, or even hidden embedded problems, can be discovered.

Implementing cloud computing into your IT infrastructure

Designing a Better Nonprofit Business Model, Part 1

There's much ado about innovation during turbulent times. It's ruffling up organizations of all sizes and sectors. But with all the radio noise and flaming bandwagons out there, no one really knows what it means anymore. Businesses fight for relevance as the economic environment morphs beyond their foresight. And nonprofits find themselves stuck in the firestorm as they try to "think differently" about solutions to delicate issues. Feelings of irrelevance and ennui loom. Talks of change and innovation can be empowering -- that is, until the questions of "how" and "where" arise.


Change ignites from strong self-knowledge. It takes more than a single change agent. Without a culture of change, big ideas never happen.

Innovation just becomes pep talk.

  1. Do

5 Reasons Nonprofits Must Use the Value Proposition Canvas to Test Assumptions

One of the greatest risks anyone can make is to design initiatives based on "common sense" and other untested assumptions.


Since programs and services in the social sector can endure long cycle times before results can even be evaluated, testing assumptions first becomes a crucial part of lean thinking. It helps us see which of our efforts create true value and which ones create waste.

The meaning of value and waste isn't all that different in the context of nonprofits, either. Value is the benefit created through programs and services. Waste, on the other hand, is anything else that consumes time, energy, and money, yet doesn't create any benefit.

Nonprofits are quick to understand why they must build this kind

Why visualize for sensemaking?

The Service Design Tools website tallies 40+ visual methods and ethnographic tools which exist for brainstorming, ideation, co-creation, and prototyping. These tools are actually archetypes ripe for modifying. How you rework its DNA depends on the industry you come from. Any derived insight becomes highly volatile. This happened with the business model canvas where the ripple effects of cloud computing had to be explored and analyzed. The original BMC was OK, but we took into consideration…

The Smokescreens of Nonprofit Innovation Part 1

Disruption can be scandalous. Bruised and defensive egos. Fear of uncertainty and the unknown. But if you can pull through, the changes can be fulfilling. As I reminisce about the themes from the last few months, it got me thinking about the prerequisites for, ahem, innovation. For organizations facing apathy, can disruption be the antidote? Consider it a prerequisite for anything innovative.


Disruption means provoking on purpose. It means tossing up and talking out a hypothesis and then acting on it. It means taking those what-ifs, mashing up and envisioning the possibilities, and then turning them into why-nots. Yet what exactly in the nonprofit sector could use a shakedown? Business models? Fundraising models? Service delivery? How about the way we

The Smokescreens of Nonprofit Innovation Part 2

Part 1 journeyed into nonprofit smokescreens. These were the old serial habits and processes that stop organizations from pursuing innovation. Sometimes those habits just come with the territory. Fear stops us from exploring a little so that we can become real powerhouses of possibility. The potentials for what "might be" excites, yet the uncertainty paralyzes. Or, we protect our assumptions: That the problem is already "known," the right answer just needs to be "created." Recently, Dan…