Introducing the Nonprofit Service Canvas

This is a new tool to help you create a quick proposal for a new service idea.

In many nonprofits, front line workers know what they need to provide the service their clients need. “Making the case” isn’t always obvious in their organization. Likewise, managers get new ideas from their staff, but aren’t sure how to evaluate them fully to bring them up the decision-making hierarchy.

This is especially true when it comes to technology-related ideas.

The Nonprofit Service Canvas is a quick and easy, but comprehensive, way to capture your project idea. It’s useful for both front line workers and organization managers/leaders.

The Nonprofit Service Canvas inspired by the Lean Canvas. Lean Canvas is a 1-page business plan template created by Ash Maurya that helps you deconstruct your idea into it’s key assumptions. It is adapted from Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas and replaces elaborate business plans with a single page business model. Maurya refers to this approach as “1-page business modelling that helps you capture your idea in 20 minutes instead of 20 weeks.”

For nonprofits, think of this as the first step in making a proposal for funding. Each section represents the types of questions you should be asking yourself, which you probably do intuitively. The process helps you take the idea from your head and put it on paper, ultimately helping your managers and superiors answer the questions they need to answer in order to make a decision, allocate precious organizational resources, or submit a funding/grant proposal:

  • What is the problem, gap or issue?
  • How is it being addressed today?
  • What is your solution?
  • Target Group/Client(s)
  • Who is your first key target group/client (early adopters)?
  • How does your solution benefit the client?
  • Why are you uniquely positioned to provide this solution?
  • How will you measure success?
  • How will you outreach / market?
  • What resources are needed to make this proposed solution possible?
  • What security, privacy & confidentiality concerns do you need to address?

The goal is to sketch or snapshot the baseline of your current thinking. Perfection is not the goal.

The idea here is to create your canvas in about 20-40 minutes. You’re not looking to create a complete project proposal at this stage. You’re taking the idea you have and developing it enough so that your manager or supervisor has a good sense of what you’re proposing. It’s also important that you provide a sense of what the service gap or issue is and how you’re proposing to address it.

I think you’ll find it a useful tool in your organization.

Here’s an example of a completed Nonprofit Service Canvas (PDF), which I created for my podcast.

Look interesting to you? Find out more, including a downloadable template, script and video to help you create your Canvas.

(The Nonprofit Service Canvas is adapted from Lean Canvas, which was adapted from The Business Model Canvas, and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) License)

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