In our five years of work for this $70+ million nonprofit, we’ve worked on countless innovation challenges. In one of our first projects, we were asked to help boost public awareness and create new fundraising strategies.
At the beginning of our collaboration, a key insight the team discussed was that the two diseases the foundation focuses on (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) are largely invisible to others, and not well understood by the public. Together, known as inflammatory bowel disease (or IBD), the diseases affect a patient’s gastrointestinal system. Patients often have no obvious outward symptoms, so it’s common that people don’t know that their acquaintance or co-worker is one of the estimated 3 million IBD patients in the US. Despite this, IBD can dramatically affect one’s health and quality of life for decades.
After some initial research and exploratory work, we led an innovation summit at the Foundation’s headquarters in New York. Our carefully selected team of participants came from inside and outside of the foundation: their CEO, a tech entrepreneur, a global trend spotter, a futurist, several IBD patients and more as we sought to develop new nonprofit innovation strategies.
During the summit, we examined the anatomy of breakthrough experiences. One participant mentioned a large wooden trojan horse a tech company had built at a conference. “It was totally out of place, and all that people talked about.” Later, we immersed ourselves in the patient experience. Interestingly, it’s not uncommon for IBD patients to text each other poop emojis, as a common impact of having IBD is needing to find a restroom frequently.
Fast forward: One of the hundreds of ideas that came from the summit was the combination of the horse and the emoji: What if we built a three-story high poop emoji and took it on tour?
This is exactly the type of crazy idea that usually gets a laugh, and then gets crossed off the list. But we worked with the idea further and, to the massive credit of the Foundation, their team ran with the concept.
Today, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation “Poop Up” exhibit is on a national tour of the United States. It’s not only the ultimate TikTok and Instagram photo op, but it houses an exhibit on IBD and offers opportunities to donate to the Foundation. The project has been a tremendous success, an example of very unconventional nonprofit innovation, and an unforgettable new tool supporting a fantastic organization’s mission.
Phillips & Co. is a leading innovation consulting firm.
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