Adventures in innovation – The power of four

Published by Lucy Gower on

In my last 101fundraising crowdblog I talked about the difference between innovation and creativity, incremental and radical innovation, and dispelled the myth that innovation is about a lone genius. Innovation is more likely to be a combination of a slow hunch with a series of previously unconnected connections rather than a single ‘light bulb’ moment.

Your challenge now is how you DO innovation. How do you have more connections, combine them in new ways and actually turn them into successful fundraising, not just once but as part of a continuous cycle. How do you turn ‘innovation’ into business as usual? How do you turn innovation into simply ‘how we do things round here’? Its not rocket science, but like anything that you want to be good at, you have to practice, you have to develop good habits and there are techniques and tools that will help you. In this series of blogs I’ll share some of these. If you practice and apply them your fundraising will be more successful. It’s up to you to put the work in.

Before you do anything else you have to get the right attitude. In a recent interview with Jonathon Grapsas, Director of flat earth direct, he asked me why innovation was important and why we couldn’t just tick along doing what we had always been doing.

Good question; and its true, you can choose to just tick along. However I think that as a fundraiser your job is not to ‘just tick along’. Your job is to make a difference. Your job is to do the very best job you can for your donors and beneficiaries and anything less than that isn’t good enough. This might take some more thought, more time, more risk but if your organisation is going to raise more funds, engage more donors, work with more volunteers, create more awareness and achieve its mission then it has to be innovative to survive.

I recently read a great book by Tim Ferriss called The 4-Hour Work Week. Tim decided that it is possible to work just four hours a week, make a lot of money and spend the rest of the time doing stuff that you want to do; stuff that matters. That in itself is cool, but the point I want make is about attitude. In 1999 Tim won the gold medal at the Chinese Kick Boxing National Championships. His tactic to achieve this was to read the rules and look for unexploited opportunities of which there were two.

1. Weigh-ins were the day prior to the competition; so Tim used dehydration techniques commonly practiced by elite power lifters and Olympic athletes. He lost 28lbs in 18 hours. Then he rehydrated himself in the time remaining before the competition.
2. There was a technicality in the fine print; if you fell off the elevated platform three times in a single round your opponent won by default.

Tim’s tactic of being the biggest guy in the ring and pushing his opponents out won him gold.

So two key points of this story. Tim set his sights high, he focused on gold. He didn’t just want to do OK, or just ‘tick along’. He set out to win. Then he put effort into thinking about how he could achieve this. So that’s what you also have to do. Focus on what you want and put time and effort into thinking smarter to make it happen.

The other key point is that Tim believed he could do it. It was never up for debate that he might not succeed.

You may know the story of Roger Bannister. On 6 May 1954 he ran the first ever mile in under four minutes. For years athletes had tried to break through this time barrier, some experts at the time even said that it was physically impossible, that the human heart would explode under the pressure to run a mile in under four minutes.

There are two key aspects to this story, firstly that Roger wasn’t even a professional runner, he was a medical student and he just ran for 45 minutes every day. He also believed absolutely that he could run a mile in under four minutes. When asked how he did it he said, “ it’s the ability to take more out of yourself that you’ve got”.

The fascinating thing about this story was that within 2 months of Rogers’ record, Australian John Landy set a new sub four-minute mile record. The next year, 37 other runners ran miles in under four minutes.

Since 1954 hundreds of runners have broken this record. There were no great training breakthroughs, human bone structure, lung capacity and heart performance didn’t suddenly improve. So what happened?

Roger believed he could do it; he focused and did better than his best. Rogers belief raised the bar enabling others to also believe they could do it. I think that belief is absolutely key to achieving this sort of success.

Great fundraising campaigns set out to do ‘better than their best’ or ‘win gold’. They set big hairy audacious goals (BHAGs) and seek to achieve them. Would Make Poverty History have caught peoples attention if it had been called ‘Try and Reduce Poverty a Bit’, what would the NSPCC Full Stop campaign been if it had set out to, “Improve things Marginally for Children who are Abused”?

So that’s the first step in seeking to be innovative; decide if as a fundraiser you are about creating and driving change. If you’re not, my view is that you need to consider if you are in the right industry, or if you are working for the right cause. Innovation takes extra effort, so you have to have a big attitude and truly believe in the cause you are raising money for to succeed.

Start thinking about your attitude; whether you are leading a fundraising strategy, a fundraising team or thinking about your own personal objectives; consider what BHAG you are aiming for. Believe that you can do it and start to look for unexploited opportunities that can help you achieve it. If you can do this you are on your way to some innovative fundraising breakthroughs.

This is the second part of a series on innovation.  You can read Adventures in innovation – The Prequel here.

Categories: strategy

Lucy Gower

Lucy has been a fundraiser for over 10 years and is passionate about innovation and how it can transform organisational and individual performance. Lucy is an independent trainer and consultant specializing in innovation in fundraising. Lucy also blogs for fundraising website sofii.org and is a conference speaker both in the UK and overseas.


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