At a time when fundraising is facing some of its greatest challenges, we all now have the ability to innovate every day through digital technology. However, technology is only a mechanism to drive innovation and the organisations that have the greatest success do so because they have a clear strategy and a culture that supports, even celebrates, risk-taking and learning from failure to create new opportunities and growth.
With the potential digital technology provides for rapid testing and iterating based on instant results, we have entered an era where incremental innovation (‘micro-vation’ if you like) can lead to huge transformations through constant improvement. This puts the power to innovate in everyone’s hands and can achieve significant performance enhancements over time.
Matthew Syed’s bestselling book Black Box Thinking focuses on just this; explaining how learning from failure and a focus on constant marginal gains are the drivers of high achieving organisations. As a good example, the Team Sky cycling team has leveraged every tiny margin in performance to win five consecutive Tour de France races and the same approach drives many Silicon Valley tech companies.
To spot the micro-vation trend in fundraising we only have to look at last year’s FIA Innovative Campaign of the Year winner: Act for Peace’s Ration Challenge. Yes, the idea in itself was an innovative new twist that created a great personal challenge and therefore mission connected experience.
Key though, the organisation has maximised the potential of every digital interaction to build the supporter experience and incentivise fundraising – by applying every element of online event fundraising best practice to improve the event year on year. They have used the tweak and test approach to perfect the experience, which has led to growth of xx% over three years.
Having said this, achieving more rapid transformative ‘step change’ innovation is still a focus in many industries, as can be seen in the Australian finance and insurance industries where it is common to invest in hot-housing incubators and hack-athons to drive transformative change using the consumer experience at the core.
So, what does this mean for fundraisers?
In preparing for the F&P Fundraising Forum Masterclass ‘Adapt to survive and grow…’, I gathered some insights from leading innovation experts – both fundraising and commercial – around the world and the trend to micro-vation was clear from what they told me. It was also clear that fundraisers still face a major challenge in persuading their organisations to allow them to take the necessary risks for innovation to succeed.
Our challenge is that as much of fundraising is short-term results orientated. With investment limited by a fear of ‘wasting donor’s money’, often this strategic direction and the permission to take risks is lacking.
A secondary challenge many of us face is the age of our audience and the fact that not all are not leading digitally integrated lives. However, that is rapidly changing so we need to be getting ahead of our audience’s needs.
At More Strategic we work on a lot of new product development projects but often find they only ‘stick’ and are successfully implemented in organisations that have a clear mandate for innovation with strategic targets and investment in time and resources – supported by organisational leadership and cultural support. Without these, it’s like throwing seeds on concrete.
And often it is just the word ‘innovation’ that puts people off – especially when linked to the term ‘strategic’! All the experts agree that the term is frequently used but is not as frequently understood.
The sector is improving
Fortunately, the sector is improving and the very informative innovation index report created by GiveEasy shows that innovation across the sector is growing year on year. Most importantly, it shows that those organisations with a clear innovation strategy are growing faster than other organisations.
The 2017 GiveEasy Innovation index for the nonprofit sector showed that almost half (48%) of all high innovators (as defined using key factors) reported income growth from the previous year. Furthermore, those with a strategic approach are also much more likely to have grown than those without one.
Most interestingly, those with an innovation strategy document that is ‘seen as important’ internally have the best growth. Meanwhile, those with a strategy document ‘not seen to be important’ didn’t grow any better than organisations without one (see graph below). This suggests that if you start on the road to an Innovation strategy, make sure you follow through on the promotion and use of that strategy.
And all the experts agree that a supportive culture is an essential factor. The report suggests we could do a lot better on this front as it states only 2% of employees feel comfortable to question the status quo and only 10% say that taking informed risks is encouraged. Both of these are absolutely vital traits for innovation to thrive.
So, where to start on the road to better performance through innovation?
1 Engage leadership – show them the 2017 GiveEasy Innovation index for starters!
2 Set a target – for the organisation and for the fundraising team, and break it down into small, medium and big project objectives.
3 Define what you mean by innovation – it is different for each organisation. Also headline what taking ‘informed risks’ looks like and how to act on learnings.
4 Obtain investment of resources in development and implementation.
5 Find time for innovation projects.
6 Learn from the outside world – keep your eyes open to as much as you can.
7 Put supporters at the centre of all you do – listen to them, engage with them and learn from them.
Most importantly, question the received wisdom in everything you do. Create a new normal for ‘business as usual’. For example, get everyone to start each day asking themselves: How can I improve everything I do today?
These are just a few starting points and I will cover more in the masterclass – so come along and learn more about what those international experts said and how that translates into action. Looking forward to seeing you there.
Gavin Coopey is presenting the upcoming F&P Fundraising Forum Masterclass ‘Adapt to survive and grow…’.