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How to innovate

In a tough marketplace, organisations and individuals have to be innovative in order to provide better products and services than their competitors. This ‘How to’ provides some basic principles to develop your personal and organisational attitude to innovation regardless of the size of your income or supporter base. 

Things you'll need

  • Open mind
  • Commitment to make time to innovate
  • Belief in your cause

What is innovation and creativity?

Creativity is having the ability or power to create ideas, it's what goes on in your imagination when you are in a boring meeting. As humans we are all capable of creative thought.

Innovation is turning your creative thought into action.

In today’s marketplace, perhaps more than ever before, charities need to take a creative and innovative approach to fundraising and service provision if they are going to make a difference. Innovation can be both small incremental changes, e.g. an improvement to a process, or a step change, something radical that will disrupt the ‘norm’, e.g. the development of the internet 



You need to decide what you are going to get innovative about. It’s not possible to be innovative about absolutely everything. Focus on areas that can make the most difference. Your area of focus should be driven by your strategy, e.g. if your strategy is to develop more high value donors, focus your innovation energies around achieving that. 



Spend some time getting to know your audiences and markets. Gather information, this could include questionnaires and focus groups, but also invest in spending time with your donors, hang out with them and really get under their skin. Look for opportunities to generate ideas where there is a gap in provision that your organisation could fill. 


Buy in

For innovation to flourish it needs to be driven and supported by leadership. If you don’t have this backing, work hard to get it. Seek out influencers, connectors, budget holders and people who ‘get things done’ to help you. Build your own support network. Innovation can be a lonely place and you need to build a network of champions to help you through the tough times. If you do have an innovation team and leadership backing then brilliant! – and still continue to build your champion network. 


Break patterns

Our brains are programmed to respond to situations based on past experiences, which can limit us when it comes to creativity. We need to break our current patterns of thinking in order to be more creative. A breakthrough idea isn’t about one person sat thinking alone in a dark room. The majority of ideas are new combinations of previously unconnected things. You can actively generate new connections by seeking new experiences, for example attending networking events, taking a different route to work, reading books or magazines you wouldn’t normally read or taking up a new hobby.  Do anything that will take you outside of what you know, broadening your experience and increasing the probability of having new connections, and therefore new ideas. 


Run good ideas sessions

A lot of time is wasted on ineffective ideas sessions or brainstorms.  If you are going to get a group of people together, make the most of their precious time by planning your session. Think about whom you invite, the environment, time of day and manage people’s expectations before and after the session.

A brainstorm is in two distinct parts;  Part one is about having lots of ideas and using a range of creative thinking techniques to help you break patterns. For this part agree some ground rules for example;

Lots of ideas

  • No idea killers
  • Listen and build on others ideas
  • Anything is possible
  • Have fun - play full out  

Part two is about analysing and critiquing ideas – two very different disciplines, both equally important.


Innovation process

Have a process so that people know where to send their ideas and a system so ideas can be progressed. Many organisations processes look like a series of filters. Your process should be a flexible framework, to help you develop ideas. That’s the exciting thing about innovation, its not always scripted, often serendipity is involved and your process must be able to flex to the unexpected. 


Prototype your ideas

When you have your breakthrough idea, if its genuinely new you will have to get buy in and backing to develop it. If you can build a prototype or pilot it on a small scale it will help bring your idea to life for others. This will help you move your idea forward.


Do SOMETHING…and learn

Failure and innovation are best mates. If you are trying out new ideas they are unlikely to be perfect first time. Accept that. Roll with it. Think about how you minimise risk, e.g. trailing your idea on a small scale. The worst thing you can do is nothing.  Do something and embrace the learning. 



Innovation isn’t rocket science but it is hard work. Like with anything, the more you practice the better you will get. Keep going. Remember why you are doing this. It’s because you are an outstanding fundraiser and your job is to make a difference. 

Further information


Page last edited Jun 26, 2018 History

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