How to minimise the risk of innovation

pen-idea-bulb-paper-2Trying something new can be nerve-wracking at the best of times; nobody knows what the outcome will be. But don’t let the risks prevent you from innovating. The riskiest thing in a changing and uncertain world is to do nothing.

Innovation: we all know we need to innovate but we also crave certainty.

The news is that nothing is certain. And everything is being disrupted. The only real question is ‘when?’

There are risks attached to innovating; doing something new and therefore unproven, but in an uncertain world doing what you’ve always done is also risky. Somehow we convince ourselves that it is safer or more certain to just do more of the same. It’s not.

That direct mail pack you have been sending for the last 100 years is not guaranteed to keep working. And if you think that if you are outside the UK you are immune to the scrutiny of increased regulation and new data legislation that has hit the UK charity sector in the last 18 months, then I believe you are mistaken.

In the UK, charities are being forced to think about new ways to engage with donors in addition to tried and tested traditional direct mail, telephone and face-to-face fundraising.

The use of digital channels is one obvious area. But don’t get side-tracked by bright shiny digital bling. Technology in itself is not innovation. Technology is just another channel. No one lives in a purely analogue or digital world. We all use smartphones, laptops, tablets, and apps. We text, snapchat, WhatsApp, speak on the phone, message on Facebook have real life face-to-face conversations, live in houses with doors and go walking on the street.

The innovation is how you make the experience of supporting your charity an enriching one for your supporter and providing inspiring communications that are relevant to your supporter across all the channels that they use.

Organisations that invest in a structured approach to innovation minimise their risk of failure. It’s the dabblers that take a scattergun approach to developing ideas that are in peril of costly failures.

Five simple tips for minimising risk

1. Have a robust framework for innovation – this in itself will help you to manage risk. (check out The Innovation Toolkit over at Lucidity)

2. Start by really unpicking the problem that you want to solve. Many times I meet charities that, for example want an app, and when we start to unpick ‘why?’ its not clear. So we go back to basics. Start with the problem.

3. Understand your audience. If you try and innovate without knowing your audience you are taking a big risk. Invest in ways to get insight. You already have some data, my hunch is that you have enough that you can develop some conclusions about your audience that you can then test.

4. Develop ideas about how you solve the problem for your audience. An idea in isolation, which doesn’t solve a problem for your audience is massively risky.

5. Test your idea on a small scale. Get feedback from your audience. Don’t ask them if they like it, test it – do your audience engage with it?

And finally – take action. The riskiest thing in a changing and uncertain world is to do nothing.

If you’d like some help with your innovation and product development – then drop me a line lucy@lucidity.org.uk. 

This blog was first published for European Fundraising Association. 




A fundraising fairytale…

pexels-photo-38102A guest blog by Rachel Hunnybun.

Two women walk down a busy street in London, deep in conversation. Amongst the swathes of people, they are approached by an engaging young man eager to tell them about the charity he represents. They smile, appreciate what he is trying to do, but won’t be setting up a direct debit today. He beams back at them, holds an enthusiastic but brief conversation, and they go on their way.

Minutes later, a #firstfiver lands in the hands of one of the women. She has been waiting for this for weeks. And she knows exactly what she’ll do with it. High on the experience of talking to the fundraiser, she donates it to his charity. Immediately. Online. In the moment.

It feels good. She has no real interest in the cause, but it doesn’t matter. A random interaction with no commitment. If this was a movie script, it would be the perfect one-night stand.


The Christmas DM pack falls on her doormat. She opens it, not expecting much — the acknowledgement of her small donation had not been brilliant. But there it was. A pack containing the perfect mix of information, impact, and emotion. A pack containing a fabulous poster to give to her nephew. A pack that moves her to want to get involved.

Hang on. Maybe she does have something in common with this charity after all. Was it really a one-night stand or did it have legs? Only one way to find out. But forms, envelopes, stamps? No, she will donate online again. She would do it just as soon as …


… a few weeks have passed. The pack and the poster are all but forgotten.

She’s on the train when the email arrives: a perfectly formed reminder that brings the pack to life on her mobile. She smiles. She clicks the donate button. No! Surely not! No service! They emerge from the tunnel and her phone pings with something urgent … the moment is lost.

Later that evening, in the background of conversation she catches a glimpse of an advert. The pack! On TV! She goes to call and stops. It will cost the charity to take the call. She will do it online like she did before. She picks up her laptop but … the phone rings. It’s her mother …


Several weeks go by and finally — another email. She doesn’t take much notice of what it says. She just clicks the button. Finally, she makes the donation. The donation she has been meaning to make for weeks.


Question: Which team gets the prize for soliciting that crucial second donation?

Answer: Who cares? It’s that kind of silo thinking that’s holding us back.

OK, so it’s likely to be the team that created the second reminder email that must have been so good it generated a response. Right?

Well, the person in the story is me, so I can tell you that the second reminder email was by far the weakest piece of content; it just landed at the right place at the right time. You could argue it did its job.

But this experience has got me really thinking about how our donors really experience integration and how the way we measure activity — in particular non-responsive touch points — can really damage our efforts to deliver an effective donor experience.

The real hero in this story is the F2F fundraiser. He is the only reason that this #firstfiver went to the charity in the first place. But will that fundraiser/agency get any credit? No.

Then there is the DM team, but because I have no cheque book and an aversion to stamps, will they get any credit? No.

In fact, I counted at least seven teams (as well as the #firstfiver campaign — well played, Mr. Thompson!) that contributed to getting that second donation. But it’s likely only one team will get any credit. This is where the ROI will be measured.

And if this is the only metric used to analyse my behavior, how will my future “journey” play out? I am, after all, a repeat online donor. Why not just send emails in the future?

We are so focused on internal stuff, and measuring the stuff that justifies our existence as fundraisers, that the really important stuff, the stuff that really matters, can often get forgotten.

So my next question… what if this charity now asked me why I donated and understood the whole experience and not just the bit that I eventually responded to?

I would be delighted to tell them the whole story! I’d love them to know why I made that “random” donation, what “got” me about the DM pack and how the things that I didn’t respond to contributed to securing my second donation. No ROI report or database analytics will tell them any of this.

My story might be completely different from the story of someone else who responded to that very same email, but it might help them to communicate with me in the right way and keep me motivated to give.

But before we get knee deep in ifs and buts, let’s not forget that this is a happy story. Thanks to #firstfiver, a F2F fundraiser and a great integrated campaign, a charity has a new donor. With an acquisition cost of practically £0. In current times, that sounds like a fairy tale in itself!

Of course, the moral of the story is simple enough to see but far harder to achieve. But let’s make a resolution for 2017 to be the year we start making steps in the right direction.

Rachel is Development Director at Sweetpea Charity.

This blog was first published at 101fundraising. 

A lot can happen in a week

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

I’ve spent the last few days trying to comprehend what leaving the EU will mean for the UK. To be quite honest I don’t think the true enormity…

A hospice is not a sad place where people go to die

Monday, June 20, 2016

A guest blog by Esther Preston, Director of Fundraising and Marketing, Ashgate Hospicecare When we asked our community about their perception of hospice care, a common answer was…

Creative teams play and have fun at work

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Has anyone ever tried to help you be more creative by asking you to ‘think outside the box?’ I suspect that putting you under pressure to just switch…

Three tactics to find out what your supporters need – without asking them

Friday, May 27, 2016

When you put your supporters at the heart of your fundraising, you increase your chances of developing communications that will really resonate with them. When you understand what…