4 ideas to spark your innovation

In last weeks blog post, I shared with you a number of reasons why most non-profit organizations don’t innovate well.

But we need to go further. So I’m going to offer a few ideas to spark innovation.

Stable and reliable revenue is generally accompanied by healthy programs, management, governance and systems that coexist in some kind of balance. This environment helps advance the organization’s overall mission. But, today, we’re finding that more and more non-profit organizations are slipping into the stagnation phase of the organizational life cycle.

But how do you know when stagnation is a threat? Here’s a Stagnation Checklist with warning signs of organizational atrophy:

  • A fixed portfolio of long-standing, sometimes obsolete, programs
  • Entrenched board and staff leadership
  • Fragmentation of staff into highly discernable silos
  • A focus on individual program goals, rather than overall mission
  • Degrading revenue source(s)
  • Outdated systems and procedures
  • Inadequate strategy, no clear path forward or too many paths forward
  • A last-century vision or no vision at all
  • Little or no new innovation to address all the things above

If you’re in a rut, or worse yet, failing, here are 4 innovation approaches that can get you unstuck. No matter what activity you’re leading in your organization, you have to continually evolve. Otherwise, you won’t make any progress. You have to keep transforming and innovating, staying fresh and up to date because things are changing so fast in our marketplace.

(Harvard Business School recently said that no discipline is evolving as quickly as the way organizations engage customers in the marketplace. Tools and strategies that were cutting-edge just a few years ago are fast becoming obsolete. New approaches are appearing every day.)

Innovation Solution #1:

Focus on solving core donor problems. 

Focus on knowing your donors and your donors’ problems. Then focus, focus, focus on solving them.

When I think about solving core donor problems, I always find it helpful to remind myself what it was like when I was first dating my wife. My only focus was on strengthening our relationship. My central focus was not on getting married.

If you also focus on strengthening donor relationships, rather than focusing solely on making your revenue numbers, it will change everything. That difference of perspective has a million cascading effects for how decisions get made, how actions get prioritized.

It might inspire you to have me walk you through the heart of our Donors for Life® strategy, especially our Relationship Development Pyramid and actions you can take to methodically deepen donor relationship and commitment. If you’re interested, please contact me to schedule a free, one-hour video conference.

Innovation Solution #2:

Never accept things the way they are. 

Everything can, and should, be challenged. Especially if you have a big opportunity in front of you.

Today, Baby Boomers are that big opportunity.

We believe that the Boomers represent the biggest opportunity for financial growth over the next two decades. Boomers have the greatest economic clout of any generational cohort. They control 80 percent of all wealth in the U.S., and 70 percent of all disposable income.

They are already giving half of all dollars to philanthropy, and are volunteering at the highest rate of any generation, past or present. They are currently much more motivated to give than any other generational cohort. Boomers are the most generous U.S. generation in history — a third more generous than the elder donors. To ignore them is financial suicide.

Even Forbes magazine has recently come out saying that “charities looking to bolster their fundraising efforts should focus their attention on the Baby Boomers, from whom the bulk of money will come…”

The challenge is that Boomers require different approaches that will tap into their unique motivations for giving. The approaches of the previous century, that worked well with their elders, are not working as well for Boomers. That’s because their motivation and behavior have always been markedly different from their elders.

So, let’s work together to challenge the status quo that’s been in place since the last century. Let’s not accept things the way they are. Let’s dream bigger and reach higher.

Innovation Solution #3:

Push outside the box. Build a new box if you have to. 

Your mind can get stale when you continue to follow fundraising conventions you’ve learned along the way. I find it helps to ask a lot of questions, and do a lot of observing and reflecting.

One thing I’ve been asking a lot of questions around lately is, What do busy people find meaningful and necessary in their lives today? I’ve now personally asked nearly 100 Baby Boomers to describe their “typical day.”

I’ve learned that the first thing a Boomer thinks about at the beginning of the day is their mobile device. It’s the central thing that comes to mind when they leave home in the morning. It’s seemingly more meaningful to them than their house key, car key and wallet.

Another thing I’ve observed is that mail does not play a central role in the lives of Boomers. Boomers may still pay attention to your letters. But whether they open your mail (and how much time they spend engaging with your mail) depends on its meaning and value to them.

That’s why we’ve been talking a lot lately about “building a new box.” That means we need to ask, How do we create communications that are about Boomers, that really bring them meaning and value?

To push outside the box, become an outsider in the field of fundraising. You need outside sources of information. Stop reading the same books, looking at the same websites. Stop listening to the same people. Open the windows and let some fresh air in.

In almost all fields, the greatest innovators are people who are outside the field. They were trained in something else, so they’re not held by conventions and dogmas. Try to forget everything you know about fundraising. How would you start over today?

Innovation Solution #4:

Do something different. Get moving. 

Sometimes the simple act of switching up your environment — getting out of your office and moving — is all you need to inspire fresh thoughts. Commit one day a month to blocking out the same-old, same-old, and get your body moving.

Movement really helps you tune out everything else and think differently. Ride your bike, go on a run, go drive in your car for hours. Turn off your smartphone. Get alone and get moving. If you’re a talker, talk to a recording app. If you’re a writer, take notes in your smartphone.

Or turn on your smartphone and give me a call (my mobile is 360.930.1050). Identifying problems is usually a solo sport. But finding innovative solutions rarely is. I’ve always got a ton of ideas that will spark your thinking and innovation. That’s what I’m here for.

The movers and shakers prove that innovation can be sparked in any number of ways. So whether you need to refuse to accept the status quo, solve your organization’s core donor problems or just take a daily walking break, learning to foster innovation in yourself and your organization may just be a step away.