Are your supporters cheating on you?

final heartI’m often asked whether I think charities should just focus on incremental innovation or if they should be aiming for disruption and a more radical approach to both their fundraising and service delivery.

Charities by their very nature are disruptive. They are born when a group of passionate and dedicated people get together to solve an urgent and important problem.

In the day-to-day running of charities, there is pressure on fundraisers to deliver on income targets. Fundraisers often describe their working day as ‘relentless’ and the feeling of ‘paddling really hard just to stay still’. With the everyday pressures on fundraisers, the original problem that led to a charity’s disruptive birth often gets forgotten.

Many years ago, I worked evenings and weekends at a Blockbuster video store. I enjoyed watching films. I had seen most of the films in stock and so was pretty good at helping customers choose something that they would like. I kept the store looking good, cleaned the windows, kept the videos in order, restocked the sweets and snacks and tried to upsell offers where I could. Whilst our store did well and made our targets, at the end of the day it didn’t really matter.

I could have been the most knowledgeable and highest performing sales person. We could have had all the latest releases. We could have had the most immaculate store. We could have delivered exceptional service to all our customers. We could have smashed our targets every quarter. We could have run the best store in the region.

Ultimately none of this mattered because as a company Blockbuster didn’t respond to the changing marketplace. In 2002 Lovefilm was born and grew to disrupt Blockbuster with a business model that meant people no longer had to travel to their nearest store – they could just order DVD’s online and they arrived in the post a day or two later. Then by about 2012 LoveFilm was disrupted as Netflix made it even more effortless for film watchers to get films delivered instantly to any internet connected device without even moving off the sofa. At the beginning our customers slowly tested out these new services. Eventually they left us completely.

So when fundraisers ask me which type of innovation they should focus on; incremental or disruptive, I think they are asking the wrong question.

It’s not a one or the other. It’s both. The question is, ‘how might we improve our day-to-day work and keep looking for new ideas that disrupt our current ways of working and make life better for our supporters?’

We must be doing the best job we can every day to provide the best experience for our supporters. We must also be looking at the marketplace and developing new products, services and business models that could provide something fundamentally better than our current model of ‘how we do things here’. And this may mean disrupting our fundraising as we know it.

You can tweak your direct mail control pack all you like, improve the supporter experience at your events, make your internal processes more efficient…the list goes on. All of these things are important, but if you take your eye off the marketplace, and are not considering how you can fundamentally make life better for your supporters and your beneficiaries then you are simply not delivering on the vision of your founders.

Are you treating your supporters like loyal Blockbuster customers but unbeknown to you they are really thinking about downloading Netflix?

Don’t let that happen to you.

This blog was first published at Hilborn. 

If you like this blog – check out the new blog at Lucidity for more content on innovation, creativity and getting better results.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *