Think bigger, think differently!
All valuable advice. In fact, innovation is often listed as one of the most important focal points for any company. It encourages growth, creates value for employees and customers and brings much-needed advancements to the field.
Arguably, any of the greatest achievements in history have occurred because someone, somewhere had the courage to look at a problem differently.
Some cave-person somewhere thought, “I need to get this Big Thing from here to there” placed it on a round rock and, Voila!, the wheel was born.
Some person – or group of people – thought, “Here is a problem. We need to solve this problem. My heart hurts because of this problem and we have to fix it.” Voila! Your mission was born.
Every nonprofit everywhere began because someone had a dream.
And every nonprofit everywhere survives for two reasons:
- The Problem still exists;
- Other people still believe in the dream of solving That Problem.
Our job – as fundraisers – is to tell the story of The Problem and invite others to participate in the vision of solving it.
Our job IS to cause disruption – we don’t believe in the status quo, we refuse to accept that The Problem should continue to exist.
We believe in a world where children are safe, the hungry are fed, animals – and people! – have homes, the ill are taken care of, communities have arts, students have access to education, equity in all places exists . . .
Our fundraising is a desperate act of revolution, of change, of daring to innovate and change the world, disrupt the status quo.
To paraphrase Helen Keller, “Fundraising is a daring adventure or it’s nothing.”
What does innovation in fundraising look like, then?
Online fundraising – now ubiquitous – was a risk, an innovation. “Nobody will give online, it’s not secure” said the detractors.
CRMs and Electronic Data Management – innovative, 30 years ago.
Social Media fundraising – shocking! Heck, we’re still trying to get our heads around this one and half the articles about it are should we/shouldn’t we?
But the basics, though
You’ve no doubt heard the phrase, “What’s your Moon Shot?” referring to the bold dream of putting a man on the moon.
Arguably, the Apollo missions would not have happened if the Wright Brothers hadn’t had the dream of creating flight.
These “innovations” didn’t happen in a vacuum.
Yes, the dream was bold, but the work to get there was mundane and rife with failures. The Wright Brothers weren’t the only ones with the dream – they just got there first, through trial and error, multiple failures and tweaking what already existed.
Putting a man on the moon was the dream, but the steps to get there were built on taking what was already in place and adjusting, tweaking, testing until, Voila!, we have a rocket!
Yes, the dream existed first. But the painstaking hard work of just getting the math right had to happen to get there.
If You Really Want To Innovate, Get Good At The Basics
To really be innovative and bold, you have to know what you want, where you’re going.
So, when we talk about innovation in fundraising, what are we really talking about?
In our work, the goal is always more donors giving more dollars. Yes, the goal is relationships, yes the goal is donor-centricity – all these are true – but at the end of the day for our missions to thrive we have to have more donors giving more dollars.
How do we get more donors giving more dollars?
- Focus on improving relationships with the donors we have and increase retention
- Seek out and attract (aka ‘acquire’) new donors who are passionate about our missions.
It’s kind of that simple, really.
Thing is – we know how to do this. We have the data and the historical evidence in all channels – mail, face-to-face, digital/email, social. We know what works. Or at least we know what HAS worked that we can test.
Yet, we always seem to be looking for the next best thing:
- Let’s do another event!
- We should do a catalog or a shopping campaign for stuff we need!
- Move everything to digital – everyone’s online now!
- Social Media!
All of these are great techniques and bring money in the door. All were, at one point, innovations – new, brave ideas.
Do the proven techniques really stop working? Or do we get bored with them?
Or do we allow our own biases to limit us?
See, the Moon Shot didn’t happen from the beaches at Kitty Hawk. We didn’t go right from horse-drawn carriages to space travel.
There was a transition period. We got good at short plane flights on beaches. Then we got good at airplanes in general. Then we got good at faster planes. Then we got good at launching rockets. And then . . . THEN we put a man on the moon.
Here’s what we have to ask ourselves . . . . have we gotten good at taking care of our donors? Have we gotten really good at donor retention? Have we gotten really good at managing our data and telling our stories and proactively engaging with our donors?
And if we have, are we ready to innovate and disrupt the way we’re doing things?
Or do we need to just keep getting better and better and better at short flights on beaches?