Charity innovation takes many forms

A guest blog from Zoe Amar.

Lucy’s recent blog about the 7 myths of innovation has inspired me to challenge my preconceptions in this area. As Lucy says, innovation is not a lofty ideal. I think there are great examples of innovation all around us and I spotted one when out and about in St Albans, Hertfordshire recently.

Raindrops on roses shop Raindrops on Roses is a cute gift shop on the high street – with a difference. It sells attractive products created locally, with 100% of the profits going to charity. It’s run by a team of local volunteers and supported by a local market research company, with each of their staff giving 3-5 working days each year helping to run the store. I don’t know the agency or the store very well but it struck me as an excellent idea, one which offers some great lessons in innovation.

  1. Innovation isn’t just for national charities. It’s not about having a big budget; it just means doing something differently, because you can see a great opportunity. Raindrops on Roses shows how you don’t necessarily need the scale and reach of a big charity to innovate. In other words, innovation can be local.
  2. Innovation should raise aspirations. Raindrops on Roses is a beautiful shop full of lovely gifts. It reflects how charity shops are currently undergoing something of a quiet revolution. Charity shops have been improving their store layouts, lighting and displays recently, reflecting consumer demand for a high quality retail experience. As recent research from Demos showed, charity shops are beneficial for high streets. They improve footfall and support the local economy. Raindrops is innovating by its focus on creating the best possible experience for customers, which in turn means that it can command higher prices for its stock.
  3. Innovation should bring people together. As Lucy says in her blog, innovation is not about a lone genius in an ivory tower. There’s a real sense with Raindrops that it’s a project by the community and for the community. It was set up specifically to support Herts against Cancer, a local charity who are aiming to raise £50,000 to buy state-of-the-art software for a local cancer hospital scanning centre.
  4. Corporates who back innovation don’t need to be big tech companies. I don’t know much about ABA Market Research, the local agency who are supporting the store, but they’re clearly a smaller corporate who wanted to support a local initiative. As Tom Levitt argues in his blog for The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network, charities often overlook SMEs when contemplating working with companies. Your perfect corporate partner might be just down the road from you. And they might be way more innovative than you think.
  5. Innovation is not a flash in the pan, as Lucy says. Raindrops opened a year ago but it looks like a long-established shop on the high street. A year is a long time in retail. When I first walked past, I assumed it was a family run store that had been around for years and had recently been given a facelift. Yes, innovation starts with a brilliant idea, but making that happen means a long-term commitment.

What other great examples of charity innovation have you noticed recently? And how have they made you think differently about innovation?

Zoe Amar is charity marketing and digital communications expert and freelance consultant with extensive experience in developing and delivering marketing, digital communications and social media strategies. You can follow her on Twitter @zoeamar or check our her website here.

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