The 10 most innovative not-for-profit organizations of 2020

Whether lobbying for criminal justice reforms (Color of Change) or working to protect teens from the hazards of vaping (Truth Initiative), these organizations are each causing a stir.

The 10 most innovative not-for-profit organizations of 2020

This year’s finalists in the not-for-profit category of Most Innovative Companies are finding creative ways to achieve their missions, leveraging the power of entertainers such as Rihanna and platforms such as Comedy Central to make the world more equitable.


1. Color of Change

For leveraging the star power of When They See Us to make local criminal justice reforms

There are 2,300 elected prosecutors in the U.S. Though these local elections often fall under the radar while we focus on national campaigns, they have enormous tangible impacts for the people involved with the criminal justice system. As part of the campaign around “When They See Us,” about the wrongful conviction of the Central Park Five, Color of Change launched a social impact campaign aimed at supporting the work of the criminal justice reform movement. At the same time, its Winning Justice campaign—which aims to hold prosecutors accountable for their role in perpetuating racist criminal justice policies and mass incarceration—created and supported groups that helped elect more progressive prosecutors in Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, and Boston, who have enacted policies like the elimination of money bail for nonviolent offenses and ending prosecution for petty drug crimes.

Read more about why Color of Change is one of the Most Innovative Companies of 2020.


2. Truth Initiative

For smoking out the teen vaping epidemic

The Truth Initiative has spent decades effectively skewering the tobacco industry in campaigns designed to lower youth smoking rates. But this year, it realized it had a different adversary: Recent data shows that e-cigarette use increased from 2017 to 2018 by 78 %among high school students and by 48% among middle school students. The organization smartly responded with new ads aimed at curbing vaping as well, putting them ahead of the curve of what became a national conversation about e-cigs.

Read more about why the Truth Initiative is one of the Most Innovative Companies of 2020.


3. GiveDirectly

For testing the impact of cash on poor communities, and for transforming disaster aid

For the past several years, GiveDirectly has been conducting an experiment in Kenya: What happens if you give people in poverty cash instead of the food and other aid that development organizations typically employ? This year, they found astounding results: that the money hadn’t kept people from working, hadn’t contributed to inflation, and had boosted the economy at a scale far beyond the initial investment. At the same time, around the world, the organization began successful initial experiments with giving cash after disasters, on the belief that people could better manage their own needs than getting pallets of donated goods. All their work helps make the organization’s larger point: that cash is often the most helpful intervention.

4. Civica Rx

For manufacturing generic drugs at lower prices to combat shortages and rising healthcare costs


The news is filled with healthcare stories about people unable to afford their insulin, or companies driving up the cost of needed interventions like EpiPens. CivicaRX is a not-for-profit drug company designed to combat these horror stories, by creating stable supplies of generic drugs, to prevent them from having sudden price spikes. The company delivered its first drug, the antibiotic vancomycin, this year.

5. B Lab

For pushing responsible capitalism into the mainstream business conversation

In a year with lots of rhetoric about modifying business’s role in society, B Lab is pushing for actions to match the words. The organization, which certifies that businesses are making a real impact and accurately reporting the externalities of their work, continued pushing for more transparency in the real effects of business, by offering reporting tools so companies can assure they are meeting the social impact goals they claim to be working toward.


6. Rippleworks

For helping social ventures scale up, with cash and executive consultants

Starting a social enterprise can be difficult, and scaling can be even harder—there isn’t that much investment money, and expert advice can be hard to find. Rippleworks is helping fix those problems, by infusing the social impact world with cash and smart, experienced executives. This year, it’s worked with more than 30 companies, helping scale everything from clean electricity in Africa to building new toilets for the developing world.

7. Define American

For partnering with Comedy Central to help comedians develop smart immigration bits


Define American consults with content producers to make sure the stories they’re telling about immigrants are real and accurate. In addition to Comedy Central, the organization consulted with many other networks, reaching more than 39 million viewers, in the hopes of changing the narrative around immigrants on television, and reshaping American public opinion via our cultural consumption.

8. Upsolve

For relieving $50 million in debt by simplifying the process of filing for bankruptcy

When 40% of Americans can’t afford a surprise $400 expense, the process of dealing with your debt via bankruptcy is vital. But it’s a system that can lock out the people who need it most, because of complicated form that previously needed an attorney to help make sense of them. Instead, Upsolve has automated the process, and helped relieve $50 million in debt and saved $5 million in legal fees.


9. Charity:Water

For creating a funding model where nonprofit workers benefit as much as wealthy donors

The clean water charity digs wells in the developing world, but it’s also innovating a new funding model, called the Pool, which helps compensate usually poorly paid nonprofit workers by having wealthy nonprofit donors give not just cash, but also equity. The donation model pushes back on the idea of “overhead myth”—that nonprofits should keep overhead costs to an absolute minimum—by finding new ways to make working for good a viable career choice.

10. Clara Lionel Foundation

For approaching climate disaster relief preventatively


Rihanna’s foundation is working on disaster relief in the Caribbean, where the singer is from, but doing it in a model different than most relief organizations, who come in after the fact and help clean up and provide support. Clara Lionel is focusing on preventative measures of resiliency instead, making sure the islands are prepared for the bigger and more frequent storms that are forecast, which will mean less disaster relief needs to take place after.

Read more about Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies: