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Fundraising Innovation – Finding the Sweet Spot with your entire organisation

Published by Ellen Janssens on

Fundraising Innovation – Finding the Sweet Spot with your entire organisation

The Why of Fundraising Innovation

Simon says, or more exactly, Simon Sinek says: “Start with the Why”.

In his view this is the way great leaders inspire action.

In my experience, this is also more than true for nonprofit innovation.

I’ve seen too many organisations starting with innovation ‘because we have to innovate’, but with no clear vision on why innovation is necessary and what it should accomplish.

The why could be anything: not sufficiently addressed (changing) needs of your current or potential supporters.

Fundraising techniques that no longer fit your organisation, due to legislation, or e.g. the desire for a more donor-oriented approach or to innovate the ways you achieve (or demonstrate) your impact.

Next to this problem-solving focus you may also choose for a more future-oriented why, where you want to explore the opportunities (and challenges) the new technologies and mindsets are offering you.

An inspiring book on this latter type of thinking is “The Day After Tomorrow” by Peter Hinssen.

The How of Fundraising Innovation

After establishing the Why comes the How.

In my experience the best fundraising innovation is more than just the responsibility of the fundraising department.

IFC 2018 – The End of Fundraising as we know it’ describes the necessity of working together within your organization to give your supporters the most optimal experience in supporting your cause.

The same is true for fundraising innovation.

The ‘Fundraising Innovation Sweet Spot’ model is designed to facilitate this way of innovating.

In the model each of the focus areas is depicted in a separate circle:

  • Changing need of your supporters (current or new) – e.g. the need for different ways to be involved, transparency, for more experience or giving to a person instead of an organization (p-2-p: person-to-person).
  • Innovation on fundraising and engagement techniques. New techniques like chatbots, virtual reality, blockchain and marketing automation provide fundraisers lots of opportunities to come up with an adequate answer to these changing needs.
  • Innovation on your core (mission-related) activities – new technologies like robotics/drones, 3d-printing, blockchain, augmented reality, big data can accelerate how we achieve our impact. The biggest is finding the unique way charities can contribute to the use of new technologies.

Finding the Fundraising Innovation Sweet Spot

The most interesting opportunities for innovation can be found in the overlap of the circles.

It can help your organization to find an innovation unique to your organization that will inspire your current and new supporters. And it combines new engagement techniques, and the needs of your (potential) supporters with inspiring new ways to accomplish your mission.

Overlap 1 – For example: combining the desire of your supporter for experiencing the impact of his or her support with new fundraising techniques like chatbots, video, VR, etc.

An inspiring example is Water Aid UK’ s Chatbot, that provides supporters with video, messages and photos of the way their donation is spent.

Overlap 3 – For example: Innovation on your core activities combined with the supporter’s desire to be involved in different ways that fit with his or her interests.

The American Heart Association‘s (AHA), My Research Legacy: supporters can support the fight against cardiovascular diseases by sharing their health data. The unique contribution of the AHA is that it is an independent, non-commercial organisation, where people will be more inclined to ‘donate’ their data.

Or Amnesty’s Site Tracker, a crowdsourcing data project where supporters become digital activists tracking how US-led air strikes destroyed Raqqa

In my opinion, the ideal spot to innovate, the sweet spot of charity innovation, can be found in the overlap of all three circles (overlap 4).

A new mindset of innovation

Innovation that combine new and inspiring ways to achieve our mission with ways that truly empower them to support our cause in ways that truly fit their needs.

An example might be to crowdfund for the Amnesty Site Tracker project.

My advice to every nonprofit would be: try this model with your next brainstorm.

A brainstorm with not only the fundraisers and communication professionals, but with your entire organization.

Inspire each other with the newest trends in your specific area of expertise, and finds ways to combine these to truly involve and inspire your supporter.

Find ways to make their support (which could be time, knowledge, money, behaviour, data, network or something else?) truly count, to work together instead of just asking for their money.

One major challenge: it will require a complete new mindset in fundraising.

Supporters instead of donors.

Support next to donations.

But I’m convinced it will lead to more engaged supporters, and in the end, more effective ways of achieving our mission!


Ellen Janssens

Ellen is a Freelance Fundraising Strategist & (Open) Innovation Specialist with several years of experience in Innovation Management. She is a strong advocate for attracting supporters instead of donors, giving people the opportunity to support their charity of choice with other means like time, expertise, network or e.g. data. Or their creativity, making innovation a truly joined effort. Within and outside of the organization. For the last two years, she has been involved in the organization of the IFC Innovation Camp. Ellen's website is www.collective-innovation.nl, you can follow her on twitter at @ellenjanssens, and connect with her on LinkedIn here.

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