Creative Disruption: Case Study

In 2010, a diverse group of nonprofit and philanthropic partners came together to examine how sabbaticals affect nonprofit organizations and their leaders. The resulting study, Creative Disruption: Sabbaticals for Capacity Building and Leadership Development in the Nonprofit Sector, clearly articulated how the benefits of sabbaticals transcend leaders, bringing measurable returns for organizations, funders, and the sector.

CONTEXT AND OPPORTUNITY

In studying nonprofits that had participated in sabbatical programs, a group of funders and other partners saw evidence that executive director sabbaticals can strengthen the organization—and the nonprofit sector.

Their research exposed the myth that an executive sabbatical is a chaotic disruption, finding instead that the creative disruption of a well-planned sabbatical can support growth across an organization’s entire leadership team. In fact, sabbaticals for nonprofit leaders were a relatively inexpensive but highly productive way to increase organizational capacity, help with succession planning, strengthen governance, benefit funders, and even extend executive tenure.

Project partners included the Durfee Foundation, the Barr Foundation, the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, the Rasmuson Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, and the Alston Bannerman Fellowship Program.

To share their research, the partners commissioned CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and Third Sector New England to produce the final report, Creative Disruption.

The partners knew that ensuring wide exposure for the report would be the most effective way to reach foundations that could advance the understanding of and funding for sabbaticals as a powerful capacity building intervention.

STRATEGIC APPROACH

The partners commissioned LightBox Collaborative to lead a strategic communications effort to gain wide-spread attention for the Creative Disruption report.

To kick-start the process, we developed a communications plan and supporting outreach materials. The core messaging focused on sabbaticals as a means to strengthen the entire leadership of nonprofit organizations: the board, executive, and management team. The messaging also highlighted the research finding that executive directors who go on sabbatical come back rejuvenated and stay at the organization longer.

A key component of our strategy involved the identification and orientation of messengers to carry these message points to their personal networks. We elevated and leveraged the stories of nonprofit leaders who have benefited from sabbaticals. We also employed critical third-party validation by amplifying the voices of foundation leaders who had seen the benefits of sabbaticals.

Finally, we engaged in outreach to traditional outlets and social media channels. The social media strategy centered on the provocative question: What would you do with three months off?

RESULTS

In just a few short weeks, the Creative Disruption report enjoyed coverage in mainstream publications such as Crain’s New York Business and The Alaska Business Monthly, popular online publications such as The Huffington Post, and nonprofit trade press including The Chronicle of Philanthropy and Philanthropy Journal.

The report also enjoyed wide exposure on nonprofit blogs such as The Social Executive, Inside Philanthropy, Nonprofits Assistance Fund and others. The report also was included in Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors’ “What We’re Reading” list, and generated considerable discussion in many other social media spaces such as Idealist, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

> Read the Creative Disruption report