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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‘Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour’ Truman Capote

The Crowd celebrating failure

The Crowd celebrating failure

Last week I went to an event run by The Crowd, and hosted by Ed Gillespie co-founder of Futerra on celebrating failure.

Innovation and failure are close friends. Put simply – you cannot do something new and ground-breaking and have a guarantee that it will work. How to be brave, try your new idea, minimise risk and learn from failure are important skills for a fundraising innovator.

We listened to four speakers proudly sharing their failures. A panel of experts including Dax Lovegrove, Head of Business and Industry, WWF, Charmaine Coutinho, Business Development Manager, Good Energy Group and Robert Phillips co-founder Jericho Chambers gave their comments and commendations in celebration of the most audacious failures.

Trewin Restorick CEO from Global Action Plan shared the story of Ergo – his failed publication. Launched in 2000 it was the UK’s first sustainability lifestyle magazine. It was described at the time as being terribly communicated, dull and worthy. Shops didn’t know where to stack it with the other magazines and often ended up in the gay porn section.

Sue Riddlestone Chief Executive and Founder of Bioregional shared how they failed to reach the 0% carbon energy targets for the 2012 Olympics. But their failure still resulted in the One Planet Centre in the Olympic Village showcasing how the site was built using sustainable techniques, and ultimately the greenest Olympic Games ever.

Richard Turner Chief Fundraiser at SolarAid explained that without their failures SolarAid would have struggled to have achieved success. He shared the disaster solar lamp that fitted inside a hurricane lamp (which to their customers was a symbol of poverty – they wanted a light bulb) and how failing to sell to schools gave them the idea to sell (successfully) to head teachers.

Matt Sexton Director of Corporate Responsibility at B&Q reminisced about the launch of B&Q wind turbines in 2006. They were neat because they fitted onto your house. The problem was that they didn’t produce enough power. The wind test reports from up a pole in Scotland were very different from urban rooftops where they were actually being used. They managed to sell about 1,000 before being withdrawn in 2009.

The reason for sharing failures is to share what we learnt. So what did I learn from these brave admissions of failure?

  • Sometimes your idea is ahead of its time and you have work to do to help your audiences understand why they need your product.
  • Failing to reach an audacious goal is better than having an incremental goal and achieving it.
  • Keep focused on one thing – focus brings people and teams together.
  • Get closer to your customers to understand them – then you can develop your messages and products to meet their needs.
  • Test your product in real life situations (not up a pole in Scotland).
  • Never accept the status quo.
  • Some ideas won’t work – and its brave to be able to make the decision to pull out. But at least you tried.
  • Often it’s the failures that you learn from that provide you with your ultimate success. Or in the words of Truman Capote

‘Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour’

I’ll be writing more on failure next year. If you have any failures that you would like to share so others can learn then please send me an email.