This is the way it is done in the charity sector, sorry!

Eric Ries just released his new book, The Startup Way. It aims to reveal how entrepreneurial principles can used by businesses from early-stage start ups to established giants. It raises a very interesting point that Mr Ries has succinctly framed…

“There was a time when you had one innovation that you could ride for decades. That’s over. Continuous reinvention is crucial now. Otherwise, you’re toast.”
Eric Ries

Having worked in both the corporate, startup, and charity sectors here in the UK I have seen first hand how a lack of innovation can lead to poor top line performance. However, it is within charities that this stagnation is being felt more acutely than ever. Donations have started to significantly drop for those charities that are not taking advantage of mainstream digital technologies. We are not talking about expensive artificial intelligence, virtual reality, or bitcoin here — just basic technologies that are simple and easy to implement.

Recent research found that over 65% of charities know digital innovation has the potential to transform their fortunes. Whilst a select number are jumping on the innovation train the vast majority appear scared of taking even the smallest of digital steps.

Common phrases heard in Charity Towers…
“This is the way it is done in the charity sector, sorry!”
“Keep an eye on it. Maybe we can do it next year.”
“How have other charities done this?”
“We don’t have the budget for it. How much will it cost?”

Lack of confidence?

I suspect in many instances a lack of confidence in implementation is driving stagnation. Many practitioners, although experienced in the charity sector, do not know enough about digital technologies to feel comfortable even joining the conversation. This lack of knowledge breeds fear and leads to a feeling of being out of control. This feeling can be exacerbated by charity-specific agencies making technology sound complex and then charging big fees to implement simple solutions.

The above said, a lack of C-suite leadership is really to blame. It is often the case that uneducated objectives and KPIs filter down from annual plans. Phrases like “put digital at the heart of everything we do “ are rarely accompanied by smart objectives. Objectives like “increase website visits” should never be given out to marketing teams. Not only does it disarm them from contributing real value, but it also sends down the signal that the top-brass do not really know what they are doing.

The Charity Way:
Increase website visits by 5% versus last month
The Startup Way:
Deliver 100 more donations this month with an average value of £12 and a CPA of £5 or less.

I believe the only way an charity is going embrace innovation is if the people at the top start embracing the metrics that continue to drive innovation within the startup world. Senior management should be challenging their teams to deliver a tangible ROI is everything they do. More importantly, they should be setting a weekly cycle of test and invest — give those in the team a solid feedback loop where success is celebrated and failure is a learning for next time.

You cannot blame charity leaders for being careful in the face of an ever complex digital ecosystem. However, in the same instance you cannot excuse them for choosing to sit on the side whilst innovation passes them by.

Easy wins

Here is a list of relatively simple checks any charity can make. Whilst it would not take a motivated team more than a week to get through them all the impact will be felt for many months to come.

  1. Activate the Donate button on your Facebook profile. donations.fb.com
  2. Ensure your website navigation works well on an iPhone 5.
  3. Ensure you can tell if an online donation has come as a result of a google search, facebook advert, or an email you sent
  4. Ditch the carousel on your home page — they do not work
  5. Invest in contactless Tap-2-Donate boxes. £500 gets you a charity ATM
  6. Replace the image-filled quarterly e-newsletter with a social-shared blog
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