7 myths of innovation

7 myths of innovationInnovation is not just about green bean bags and whacky idea sessions. Lets blow some myths about innovation out of the water and hear what some of the leaders in the charity sector have to say about them.


1 Innovation has to be brand new

Innovation does not have to be brand new. If it is new or different for you – then it counts.

‘Innovation does not have to be something that is new to everyone – it counts if it is new to your context.’  Paul Farthing, Director of Fundraising, NSPCC

2 Innovation is about whacky creative sessions

No it absolutely is not. Innovation is a business tool to help you achieve your mission as an organisation.

‘The word innovation brings an enormous amount of baggage. If you mention the word innovation – for some, it conjures up images of flowers, rainbows and stuff. Re-titled as business development it re-grows muscles and gravitas, that allows us to progress’ Iain McAndrew,  Director of Marketing, Cystic Fibrosis Trust

3 Innovation is about technology

Technology is an enabler. If your solution to a problem involves technology then it is the solution that is innovative; not the technology. Just because your organisation has a Facebook page or can Skype doesn’t make you innovative. Howard Lake of UK Fundraising sums it up here,

‘Technology is not innovation; it has been presented for years as the solution. Any good technology that meets a need is innovation, technology itself is not – innovation is not the worship of tech and gadgets’

4 Innovation is about a lone genius in a room

Innovation is not about working in isolation, it’s about making connections and sharing ideas and experience with other people.

‘Collaboration is the biggest catalyst for innovation going forward now – the biggest things will come from collaborations.’  Ben Welch, Head of Innovation, Macmillian

5 Innovation is just a process

A process alone will not enable innovation. To be successful at innovation an organisation requires a clear and ambitious goal, strong leadership, that provides a strategic direction and focus for innovation, a supportive culture where people are allowed the time and space to develop their thinking and test and learn from different ideas.

An innovation process will only enable innovation if a culture exists that also supports innovative thinking.

‘We talk about innovation process, but in a way it’s just naming and formalising something that should be happening naturally, by nature we are creative and inventive beings. Process brings focus, diligence and resource coalescence.’ Reuben Steains, Innovations Manager, Amnesty

6 Innovation is instant success

Any change takes time. A lot of organisations want to see ‘quick wins’ from innovation. Instant success isn’t realistic.

Corporate organisations approach innovation as a long-term business strategy. Dan Pallotta, founder of Pallotta TeamWorks, which invented the multi-day charity challenge walks and rides in the USA and author of Uncharitable and Charity Case, gives the example of how Amazon, when it was founded in 1994 focused on a long term strategy of building a market presence that spanned six years before paying a return to investors.  He questions if a nonprofit would be allowed to take the same approach, even with a robust strategy that focused on achieving a greater long-term goal.

7 You need a lot of money to be good at innovation

Some not for profits have directors of innovation and innovation teams. You don’t need an innovation team or lots of money to be good at innovation. An organisation needs solid direction and leadership, the right people, diverse skills and experience, time, space and tools to think creatively as well as a supportive environment to develop and test ideas. With the right support, being good at innovation is within all of our reach, it’s not about organisation size or how much money an organisation has to employ people with ‘innovation’ in their job title.

‘Innovation is the life blood of sector going forward, the marketplace is moving at the speed of light, budgets are no longer big enough to achieve that we want, technology is filling all the gaps; the future about brain power not budget power.’ Tony Elischer, Managing Director, THINK Consulting

This article is based on research for Innovation (Still) Rules – an innovation and creativity guide for not-for-profit organisations. You can download the full report for free here on the nfpSynergy website

(or if you are in London today Monday 2 December) I’m talking about the myths of innovation in my workshop at the Institute of Fundraising London and South East Conference. 




Successful fundraisers know their supporters

The Ideas Lab - Innovation in insight and analyticsLast week I went to The Ideas Lab: Innovation in Insight and Analytics conference run by the Institute of Fundraising’s Insight in Fundraising Special Interest Group. The conference had a varied line up of speakers and perspectives.

We heard from Joe Saxton about the trends that are affecting our fundraising, including rapidly changing technology and the constantly connected consumer that means charities have to operate faster to respond to their demands.

Several charities shared their stories about how they have used insight to drive their fundraising and communications.

  • The RSPB shared how their different approach to audience segmentation and insight was key in the development of a new communication strategy.
  • CRUK took us through the development of Dryathlon – not a triathlon without the swimming – but a new product asking people to give up alcohol for a month to raise money.
  • Macmillan showed us how it positions insight at the core of its fundraising, and how the recent success of it’s Coffee Morning (that was £5 million over target this year) is down to ruthless decision-making based on good insight targeted at key audiences.

‘Consumers don’t think how they feel. They don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say’ David Ogilvy

There were also several fascinating sessions on behavioural science, social psychology and decision-making.

The Guardian Digital Agency showed us how to tell effective visual stories. We know that telling stories is a key skill for fundraisers to engage emotionally with donors. And I learnt that it is possible to be emotional about data. (Who knew?!) They shared some beautiful examples that made sense of complex information. See some examples here.

Michael Sanders from the Cabinet Office Nudge Unit, shared some results from recent experiments in giving, including the difference it makes depending on who makes the ask and messaging around knowing what your colleagues have donated. Who would have thought that an offer of sweets would make such a difference to people’s willingness to give? And whilst obvious, in a recent experiment on legacy giving,  just asking, and how you ask someone to consider leaving a gift in their Will – which is simple to do – can make a huge difference to your legacy income. You can read more here.

Jonathan Harman from the Royal Mail Market Reach team told us about the findings of neurological research that concluded that mail performed better than other media in triggering engagement, emotional intensity, memory encoding and attention averages than other channels. And how using mail in conjunction with other channels provides optimal results.*

Phil Barden author of ‘Decoded The science behind why we buy’ shared some insights on behaviour, including how we make decisions on autopilot and how charities can focus on the ‘decision autopilot’ to get better results.

I work with charities to help them develop and implement new ideas. The starting point for any new idea or innovation is always to identify the problem that must be solved. The next task is to identify the key audiences. Then we need to begin to understand them. Whether a fundraiser, fundraising manager, head of department or executive board member ‘likes’ an idea is largely irrelevant – it is only when we understand our audiences and their decision-making processes that we can develop messages, products and services that talk to them – that genuinely meet their needs. Our success relies on knowing and understanding our audiences. Gaining insight therefore is an essential part of everyone’s job.

If you want some help with how insight can inform better results, email me for a quick and dirty guide on gaining insight. Or just get in touch for a chat.

*All cynical comments withheld.