“Innovation” is a word we bandy around a lot in fundraising, always on a quest to find news ways to engage donors, and to communicate more effectively and meaningfully with the supporters that we have.
As we start 2014, it is a word which seems to feature even more prominently in virtually every article or blog about the future of the sector, and the services we all provide. Its prevalence is matched only by the number of articles I see about sugar.
What has prompted this? I am guessing some new research – I don’t read the articles myself, everyone I know seems to have decided sugar is evil and giving it up, and I’m worried I might follow suit if I find out why.
It’s also a word I find myself using increasingly as a kind of generic, catch-all term for something a little bit different, or new-ish, and I was feeling increasingly guilty about this – a nagging feeling that I am not really being innovative when I use the word.
How often have you, or a member of your fundraising team, spotted a campaign or strategy, and then gone into overdrive trying to work out how it could be adapted for your charity? Or brainstormed ways to make an established event new and exciting, again often appropriating what has worked for others?
I secretly wondered how many of us were actually coming up with new ideas, compared to those of us borrowing and adapting, and estimated a ratio of about 3 to 10,000.
This was one of the reasons I was so excited to attend the Institute of Fundraising’s Festival of Fundraising Innovation at the end of last year. An opportunity to explore the concept of innovation and what it meant in practice.
possibly steal some ideas be inspired by my
The event attempted to embed innovation into the event itself, as well as the title, calling it a festival rather than a conference. Some of it – the venue, the different “stages” – worked well. Other aspects, not so much. (No biscuits? I know they are not standard festival fare, but then there was no pear cider on offer either).
Perhaps IOF were pre-empting the 2014 sugar backlash. I even tweeted about it during the event. Yes, while others were using the hashtag to share ideas and responses, I was moaning about biscuits. (I have no shame).
The best part of the day for me was learning that, actually, most people were doing the same as me – looking at existing techniques, borrowing concepts, adapting them. Innovation isn’t necessarily about constantly creating new ideas, it’s also being imaginative and creative with existing ones.
The exception really is when it comes to technology – where there really are opportunities to do new things. There were some words of caution here though – because some possibilities are so new, the temptation is to jump onto the bandwagon without taking more time to consider how it would really add value to your organisation.
In the Open Space discussion facilitated by Janine Chandler of Cancer Research UK, several participants commented that when smart phones took off, they had been under pressure to look at developing mobile phone apps – without much thought to how or why.
Not only did I come away feeling reassured that I wasn’t a fraud when it came to innovation, (reinforced by Sue Kershaw, Development Director at SOFII when she explained that some of the most successful fundraising campaigns ever were imaginative and creative recasts of existing concepts).
But I, as always, found the chance to talk to other fundraisers inspirational and invigorating, and resolved to actively seek opportunities to do more of this in 2014.
And I’ll bring the biscuits.