5 examples of impact innovation at CoachArt

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This post is part of a series by our Executive Director Greg Harrell-Edge to provide transparency and insights about CoachArt’s approach to advancing its mission.

This is our first full year providing arts & athletics to kids impacted by serious illness nationwide and our team is honored and grateful to have been a finalist or recipient of 4 different nonprofit innovation awards so far:

And frankly, we’re also just thrilled that 4 different nonprofit innovation awards even exist! 

When I first started in the nonprofit sector in 2009, I loved asking people about the most innovative nonprofits they knew of – even though often the response was “there’s no such thing.” 

But over time, I’ve noticed more and more nonprofit leaders across different causes with innovative ideas and models and visions for making change in the world at scale.

Just imagine how much good we can all do in the world when as many nonprofit organizations innovate for different causes as companies do for food, fintech, transportation, real estate, etc.

If we want to create that world, we should all champion and support innovations in the nonprofit organizations we care about.

So what does innovation mean in the nonprofit sector? 

It might mean different things for different causes or organizations, but I can tell you 5 examples of what “innovation” has meant for CoachArt….

1. The founding idea – a new model to serve a vulnerable population

CoachArt was co-founded by Zander Lurie and his childhood friend Leah Bernthal after a conversation with a social worker at a children’s hospital. 

The social worker said that medical advances were allowing pediatric patients to spend less and less time in the hospital – but she wondered if there was a way those kids could get some of the same adaptive arts & athletics programs at home that they got in the hospital. 

So Zander and Leah innovated – they created CoachArt to send volunteer arts & athletics coaches to the homes of kids affected by serious illness across LA. 

2. A different kind of Board of Directors

Zander and Leah had professional networks throughout tech and digital media, so the Board of Directors they’ve built over the years is not a traditional nonprofit board. 

CoachArt has always been fortunate to have board members from some of the most innovative companies in the world. They bring emerging insights on how to scale and a new approach to traditional nonprofit challenges.  

Meet the CoachArt board.

3. The CoachArt Connect app

One of the biggest barriers to scaling our impact was the amount of time it took our team to match a new volunteer coach with a kid – over 7 hours

In 2016, we built the CoachArt Connect app, which enabled volunteers to match and schedule lessons directly with the kids’ parents and reduced the staff time required to under 7 minutes.

So now our team can spend less time making matches happen and more time making the matches great.

4. Going virtual in the pandemic – and expanding nationwide

Like so many organizations and companies, CoachArt pivoted to a more online model when the pandemic hit in 2020. We began coordinating lessons over video chat – which also meant that for the first time we could match coaches in one city with kids in another city. 

By the end of 2020, we had expanded our services to 5 new cities nationwide: Chicago, Dallas, Denver, New York City, and Portland. 

In the fall of 2021, we had the opportunity to announce that we were expanding nationwide by inviting one of our first-ever New York City kids – 9-year-old Erick from the Bronx – to ring the closing bell at Nasdaq in Times Square. 

5. CoachArt Inspire

Today, we have a new barrier to scale. As a newly nationwide nonprofit, the organization is not very well known across the country. 

We believe that the most powerful way to spread the word about this work is through our stories – the stories of our families, volunteers, and supporters, and hopefully the unfolding story of continuing to scale and serve more kids. 

A common trait in all of these stories is inspiration – so we’ve named this blog “CoachArt Inspire” and hope to create content that inspires a new wave of people to get involved. 

+ 1 step you can take today

We’re building a network of people who are oriented toward impact innovation — in their professional and their personal lives — who “get” our innovative approach to advancing our mission and who will feel good about being part of it. And THAT will lead to continuing growth in positive impact for the millions of kids nationwide who are impacted by childhood chronic illness. So we’d be thrilled if you would consider subscribing and sharing this article.

And of course for more ways to get involved in the CoachArt story, we invite you to visit www.coachcorner.coachart.org/getinvolved.

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