If we are all the same how will we ever innovate?

Recently I was interviewed about innovation in the charity sector, and I’m sorry to say that when asked, I struggled to name any campaigns or services that I’d seen that had inspired me, or I that I thought were creative or stand out. I could only think of variations on a theme.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’m wrong and that there is a wealth of different thinking and new ideas in progress that I’m unaware of.*

Right now, when I look at fundraising I see a lot of the same. Similar mass participation events, mud, obstacle, beer challenges and more recently membership offers for example from Scope and Mind. When one product is successful others copy, the market gets saturated and then it starts over again.

At the moment there seems to be more talk in the sector than usual about diversity. And diversity is important. I don’t just mean race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age or physical abilities. I mean diversity specifically in terms different beliefs and values. Because from an innovation perspective when we all think the same it’s hard to develop fundraising ideas that are different and therefore stand out.

I’ve just finished reading the excellent book Friend of a Friend by David Burkus about understanding how your networks affect your life and career.

Burkus talks about something called homophily. The phenomenon that in both our personal and professional lives that we are attracted to people like us. It talks specifically about how in business we recruit people like us, from a pool of people like us. It’s reminiscent of the phrase ‘birds of a feather flock together’.

Burkus tells the story of when Gimlet Media (an award-winning podcasting company helping listeners better understand the world and each other) realised that the lack of diversity in their team was a problem. They were growing fast and needed to recruit new people to the team. They looked at their current staff and noticed 24 of their 27 employees were white and many had got the job through shared networks and a background in radio broadcast. Essentially the people who made up their staff team were very similar. Given the nature of their podcast of shining a light on the world and each other, troubled by the lack of diversity and inspired by their commitment to transparency they decided to do a series of podcasts with their staff to explore and highlight their homophily issue.

While interviewing an openly gay colleague a question arose; beyond the surface did they lack ideological diversity? They discussed that the vast majority of staff were not politically or religiously diverse. For example, no one had any strong feelings about religion. During the interview the producer sitting outside asked if he could join in. He said he went to church every Sunday he would class himself as religious but because no one else spoke about their faith he kept it to himself.

I have a hunch that this also happens in other organisations, (perhaps even in yours?) that even when people are different those differences are played down in order to fit in with the thinking and beliefs of the majority.

Why is it so hard to develop diverse teams in fundraising?

In fundraising we tend to recruit from a small pool of people already working in fundraising. We advertise in and recruit from the same agencies specialising in charity sector recruitment, charity recruitment pages of national papers, sector press and the same online groups and forums.

More often than not you must have experience of the same type of role to get your next role. So, you join a new organisation and replicate what you learned before with some additions and often you even bring your creative agency with you. No wonder I see similar looking campaigns over and over again.

We end up operating in an echo chamber.

If it is a human condition to flock together, and we flock to other people who think and act like us we have to work very very hard indeed to recruit diversity. Then when we do recruit people with different backgrounds and beliefs how do we stop people diluting their difference in order to conform to the majority homogony?

If we truly wish innovation in our fundraising to flourish we need to work really hard to overcome this homophily effect so we don’t have a situation where we all think and act the same. It takes a massive effort to swim against the strong current of similarity. Whether as an individual or as an organisation, if you can do this then you have a fighting chance of being different, standing out and raising more money for the causes that need you.

Join the Lucidity Network 

One of the reasons I’ve set up the Lucidity Network – an online and offline learning and support network is to create a diverse network to help people to think differently and get better results. Already we have members from a mix of sectors from around the world. We’ll be recruiting new members soon. Places are limited so if you’re interested in joining the Lucidity Network join the waiting list and you’ll be the first to know when membership is open. Join the Lucidity Network waiting list here. Don’t tell your friends though.

*If you are working on something innovative please do share in the comments

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