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Where to start with Charity Innovation

We love the charity sector. It’s the perfect blend of Tigger and Eeyore. It keeps us passionate about what we do and striving to do better.

One of the biggest challenges for the sector is being on the front foot. It might be a pervasive risk averse culture. It might be lack of funds. It might be not wanting to risk upsetting public trust with an “it’s OK to fail” attitude. Whatever it is, it does lead to a sector that is often running to catch up. What follows are direct quotes from charity leaders:

1997: We need a website!

1999: We need a forum!

2002: We need a MySpace page!

2005: We need to be on facebook!

2015: We need to be on SnapChat!

2018: We need to be innovating!

Innovation and the charity sector

Innovation is reaching a tipping point. It’s becoming mainstream within the charity sector. Every day, more and more organisations advertise for an Innovation Manager, Head of Strategy and Innovation or Director of Innovation and Research. Across The Guardian job site and charityjob.co.uk, around 10% of jobs posted now feature innovation as part of the role.

Even for those not at the point of dedicating resource to innovation, it’s a hot topic. Any conversation you have with charity sector workers soon leads to innovation as a tool for or a barrier to growth, depending on the resources available.

Innovation is for everyone

We’re constantly talking to small and medium sized charities who see the Cancer Research UKs, the Macmillans and the BHFs with their dedicated innovation teams and incubation labs and don’t know where to start. Luckily, we know it’s not about size, it’s about how you think and what you do with those thoughts.

Here’s some quick and free practical innovation tips to consider:

You’ve got to innovate around something

Sounds obvious but you need to have identified a problem, a need, an opportunity, a gap in the market or that, due to cultural, technological, societal (or other words ending in “al”), it’s now possible to do X, Y or Z. Don’t just go into a room and try and innovate. You might hurt yourself and you’ll definitely waste your time.  

You’ve got to innovate with people

We love the idea of the lone inventor, sitting in their lab or under their apple tree, or in their bath, and coming up with a perfectly crafted idea for the next big thing. But it’s not how it happens. We need to communicate, share and learn from others. We’re a social species designed to build together.

You’ve got to innovate for an audience

It’s still true that necessity is the mother of invention. Even if you go for the more imaginative approach to creative development and innovation, you’ll need someone to love your newly designed campaign/brand/product/service. You’ve got to innovate to market (it’s not just nice ideas).

You’ve got to innovate to a budget.

An idea is only as good as its viability. Being rigorous around resource at the planning stage sharpens the mind and cuts out a lot wasted time as you think up ideas that will never get off the screen because they cost more than your fundraising director’s wildest income dreams.

You’ve got to innovate using a process.

And there’s loads of excellent innovation processes freely available on the internet to get you started. From Design Thinking to Disruptive to Architectural. There’s different ways to approach harnessing the power of innovation, depending on what your end goals are.

You’ve got to innovate as part of business planning.

Unfortunately, adopting innovation isn’t licence to spend the next three years swanning around in a glass cube, drinking Flat Whites, stroking your beard and looking for a Mac charger. How does what you’re working towards fit in with current revenue streams or service delivery? Are your innovations part of a pipeline that will deliver over six months or three years or at an undefined point in the future? What are the expectations on your innovation and how will you measure if it’s been successful? Be smart and get some objectives.

You’ve got to innovate to improve your business position.

Another misconception prevalent in the third sector is that charities exist outside of market forces. It’s not true. You need to make more money and be more efficient and attract more customers / service users / beneficiaries / supporters / talent.

Over the next few weeks we’ll share examples of great innovation we’ve seen across all areas of life – big & small to get you inspired.

Got more fundamentals of innovation to share?
Get in touch at enquiries@narrativedesign.co.uk

Narrative Design