Think outside the box and jump outside the jar

iStock_000017965547XSmall-resized-600I really hate the expression ‘think outside the box’. In my experience when someone asks you to ‘think outside the box’ it doesn’t help you to be creative, it just puts you under pressure to come up with quick fix solutions and makes you feel scorned and rejected for not being more ‘outside the box’ in the first place.

We think inside boxes because that is how we have been conditioned from an early age. At school we learn that we get rewarded for conforming, for getting things right, and not for inquisitive enquiry or being a maverick or a disruptor which is what ‘thinking outside the box’ requires. Because thinking inside the box is ingrained into us from an early age it’s not realistic to simply ask people to ‘think outside the box’ and expect that they will easily be able to do it.

I was speaking at the International Fundraising Congress last week and I had the pleasure of listening to the opening keynote by Dan Pallotta on innovation with purpose.

It turns out that it’s not just humans that are held back by the limitations that are conditioned into them. It applies to fleas too.

Check out this short film on how to train fleas.

Training fleas requires a glass jar with a lid. The fleas are placed inside the jar and the lid is sealed. They are left undisturbed for three days. Then when the jar is opened the fleas will not jump out. The fleas will never jump higher than the level set by the lid. When the fleas reproduce their offspring will automatically follow their example.

Asking people to change the habits of a lifetime by ‘thinking outside the box’ or even ‘jumping outside the jar’ simply isn’t a reasonable or realistic request.

How might we banish ‘thinking outside the box’ as a phrase and better help ourselves and support our colleagues to really innovate and make change happen?

I’d love to know your thoughts, and you can read more of my thoughts on this topic in my new book The Innovation Workout.

How to help your supporters feel the warm glow

I am always on the lookout (and mystery shopping) charities and companies for examples of good (and bad) supporter or customer care.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to David, a Chief Executive of a hospice that helps children and their families, many of whom are dying from terminal conditions.

He was telling me about a fundraising campaign that they had run recently, asking their current supporters if they could make a gift so the hospice could buy a car to take the children that were well enough, out and about on short day trips.

The hospice had raised enough money to fully fund the car within just a few weeks of the campaign being launched. So when a gift of £20k arrived late in the campaign, when the car had already been funded the hospice had to contact the supporter to explain.

David called this supporter to say thank you, and to explain that the money had already been raised for the car, and would she mind if her contribution was used to fund specialist staff to go with the children to look after them on their day trip – as well as a few pounds to buy some treats like an ice cream or fish and chips for the children like other ‘normal’ children and families might do on a family day trip.

She said, ‘yes, that was OK.’ From their conversation it was clear that she wasn’t wealthy, she didn’t just have spare £20k floating about to give to a direct mail appeals. She simply said that she’d had some good fortune and wanted to share it with others.

When he put the phone down David just had a feeling that the call didn’t really feel quite right, something was missing, the donor ‘didn’t get the warm glow that she deserved to have’ so he felt compelled to do something else. Something more. Something different.

David penned a hand-written card with a hand-written thank you and delivered it to the supporter by hand. He didn’t ask to stay and chat (and he felt that she didn’t want him to anyway!) but he hoped that by thinking a bit more carefully about what the supporter might appreciate, that he made her feel special and achieved her wish of sharing her good fortune and making a difference to others.

He are two paragraphs of the thank you letter.Thank you letter for blog
What we can learn from this story

  • The Chief Executive called the supporter. A £20k donation for this hospice is a significant gift. The major donor fundraiser didn’t have to badger David to do it. He understands that fundraising and speaking with supporters is an important part of his job and was delighted to have the opportunity to speak with a supporter.
  • He also understands that he wasn’t calling as a one-off thank you for a one-off gift as a tick box exercise.
  • He wanted to make the supporter feel appreciated and understand the difference she made to children through giving her gift to the hospice. He also wanted to understand a bit more about her.
  • After he put the phone down, he felt the call was lacking something, he felt he hadn’t connected with the supporter or helped them feel ‘the warm glow’ about the difference they made, so he took action.
  • He hand wrote a letter (when was the last time you hand wrote a letter – or received one?), which was the preferred style of the supporter; she had included a hand written note with the £20k cheque.
  • He turned up to deliver the thank you BY HAND! And his ego didn’t require him to hang round and chat and make himself feel good because he had made the effort (we’ve all done this, ‘did you like your present, did you, did you?). He just delivered the letter and went.
  • The letter itself is well written and personal, and uses language that is David’s own, words like ‘flabbergasted’ and ‘excited’. He ‘spoke to the children in the hospice’. He talks specifically about the difference that the supporter made to two children ‘Ian and Ben’ as they felt the sun and the wind in their faces and enjoyed eating their ice cream looking out across the hills’.

    I suspect that this supporter has had a good experience of making a gift to this hospice. I think that the chances are that the supporter feels valued, and knows how the hospice has helped them achieve their wish to help others.

    What do you think? Is this a typical story of what happens in your organisation? Should it be? Please share your thoughts and stories to help us all give our supporters the best experience of making a gift to charity and the warm glow that they deserve.

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