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Innovation from all angles – how charities can use innovation to improve 

Why do we need to be innovative? How can innovation help charities? And what the hell is innovation anyway? Innovation is changing the shape of the charity sector, so find out what you need to know right here.

Alex Scott

Alex Scott


Alex Scott is a freelance communications consultant. He develops strategies, creative and content for brands with a purpose. He works with the likes of Macmillan Cancer Support, YoungMinds, Scope and Anthony Nolan.




We help charities inspire people. To take part, to get involved, to find out more, to help themselves and others. We’re determined to play our part in making society, the world and the future a better place. We’re a creative agency for the charity sector. We use innovation, collaboration and insight to produce different thinking that leads to brilliant communications.

Innovation is for all of us.

An Executive Summary

This guide focuses on charity communications, but in reality innovation applies to all areas of an organisation. It’s about thinking and behaving differently to achieve something new and better.

Innovation is most effective when embedded into the working culture; it needs to be considered across every aspect of an organisation. Innovation is also about how people (including supporters, service users and beneficiaries) interact with the brand, the operations and each other.

From developing a strong organisational culture to conducting a one-to-one meeting, there is always scope for innovation to bring benefits. And because innovation doesn’t immediately need capital investment or sweeping changes to work, there’s no excuse not to try.

We can use innovation to achieve more and get closer to completing our missions. How? By spending more time understanding our audiences. By collaborating across departments. By testing again and again. By allowing everyone to be creative and thoughtful. By sharing results and asking for feedback. By seeking learning opportunities. And the good news is by repurposing resources that already exist, we can do all of this without putting the finance department into shock.

But we have to be more transparent, and open to risk and failure. We can’t innovate if we don’t accept that some new things we try will not work. When our planning includes risk and failure, and they are embraced as part of growth by the leadership and delivery teams, we can start to move forward.

Innovation can happen today. Right now. Just go to your Twitter feed and ask your followers if they’d like to join an audience panel you’re setting up to test new campaign ideas. There you go, you’ve just been innovative.

Innovation can change your organisational strategy. Add an item to your next trustee meeting to talk about including your failures within your next impact report, as StreetLeague and CLIC Sargent have done.

There are billions of resources for anyone to use, all sitting there, free of charge, waiting for someone with a new idea and an innovative character to pick them up and run with them. For a sector as passionate, vital and lean as the charity sector, what could be a better tool for success?



from Aruna Safri-Singh

Corin and I started Narrative, our design and branding agency, with a single mission. We wanted to find new and better ways for brands with a purpose to connect with their audiences. Charity brands can sometimes feel interchangeable, with many fundraising campaigns blurring into each other. Our clients feel as passionate as we do, and we talk constantly about how to better communicate messages, broaden appeal, and be genuinely and authentically different.

When Alex and I first met we discussed our love of and frustration with the sector, and it wasn’t long before we focused on the role innovation has to play in helping charities meet their missions. We knew organisations which were using innovative techniques across communications and brand (including clients we’d persuaded to think differently) and had talked to a lot more who were desperate to understand what innovation could do for them. The trouble is innovation can feel like a nebulous concept if you’re not used to it. It can sound expensive and abstract, and this was holding organisations back. 

The more we talked, the more we were sure there was something we could give to the sector. With our combined skills, experience and contacts, we knew we could create a guide, a resource, a report, a hub, something that professionals on every level could use to get under the skin of innovation and see how they could apply it to their organisation.

It’s been a journey to bring all this content together, and my heartfelt thanks goes out to everyone who has given us their time and insight to contribute. As Alex explains, innovation, by its very definition, never stands still. This resource is hopefully the start of something bigger. A realisation by the sector that innovation is for everyone, from the £100 million-plus charity to the single fundraiser trying to make a difference to their local cause. 

We want the guide to be something to everyone. It’s designed to be consumed in chunks and not every section of the guide will be relevant to every reader. Hop around, dip in and out, have a search and find what you need. And then talk about it with your teams, your managers, your trustees and your supporters. At its heart, innovation is open collaboration and the sharing of good stuff. 

Have fun and keep testing, sharing and learning.

Aruna Safri-Singh

Founder, Narrative

Section 1

What are we doing here?

An Introduction

Hello and welcome to this guide on innovation, designed especially for you, the charity sector. As with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there’s no need to panic. We’re all on this magnificent journey together, just don’t forget to bring a towel.

We thought it would be useful to develop a guide to innovation for the charity sector. Why?

Reason #1: Everyone’s talking about innovation

You might have noticed more and more charities are starting to employ roles with “innovation” in the title. When a marginal concept becomes mainstream, it’s natural to wonder what’s going on, to feel excluded, confused, ill-informed and anxious you’re missing out. 

Reason #2: Innovation needs demystifying

When you’re trying to get to grips with something new, it helps to have a trusted manual you can use to give you some guidance and parameters. Even if you don’t use everything in this guide, it should help you feel more confident when talking about what innovation is and isn’t and identify if and when it’s relevant to you. 

Reason #3: Innovation can help everyone

Whatever your organisation’s size, cause, strategy, mission or structure, you can use innovation to your advantage. We’ll explore how innovation integrates across the different parts of your business to help you think and operate differently so you can get closer to your goals.

A guide to the guide

Throughout this guide, we’ll look at innovation from every angle. We’ll look at it close up in detail and see where it fits strategically. We’ll look at how it affects an organisation’s culture and how to implement quick and practical processes. 

We’ll point you in the direction of useful innovation tool kits and templates and let you in on the thoughts and ideas of innovation leaders. We’ll tackle it philosophically and practically. We’ll look at barriers to innovation, how to take risks and make the most of opportunities. 

Understanding what we’re talking about is always good

“Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation.”

To truly get innovation, we need to look at what it’s made from. It is more complicated than calling a meeting, sitting in a room and asking people to innovate. It’s part process, part knowledge, part creativity, part luck and part timing. 

Dean Kamen, multi-award winning inventor, engineer and businessman (and creator of the Segway), said: “Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation.” It’s need, idea and ability coming together at the same time that sparks the next innovation.

If you try too hard to define it, you’ll probably fail. Innovation needs to be encouraged rather than forced. Whether you have a specific innovation team, or you challenge everyone to be innovative, it begins at a cultural level. It can be adopted as a principle, a value or a framework to motivate people. But to truly make a difference, it needs to be seen as a practical development tool in whatever field or job role you’re working in. 

Innovation is broad 

And deep. And iterative. And conceptual. And cross-cutting. It can shape your communications, or fundraising or service development. Innovation can change your audience insight and campaigning success rate. It’s applicable across every organisational activity, from how you hire, to who you hire, to how you define, measure and reward success and failure. It applies to your paternity leave policy, your office space, your Christmas party and your attitude to dogs in the office. Or cats.

So, basically, there’s no point in trying because you’re never going to change all these things and you may as well give up and go home, right?

That’s up to you.

Multi-faceted innovation brilliance

Social enterprise The Recycled Assets Company Store (TRACO) trains vulnerable young people in the workplace while helping companies to be more eco-friendly and invest in a more sustainable future. Sounds like a big (and expensive) ask. Not when your strategy is based on innovation and helps you see a different way of doing things. TRACO removes surplus furniture and appliances from office moves, and repairs, upgrades and sells them to make money. Simple, effective, innovative and just a little bit brilliant

Henry Rowling, former director of strategy and innovation at The Children’s Society, and founding partner of Flying Cars, discusses his thoughts and experience of how innovation can help organisations and shape a more effective sector.

Henry Rowling

Henry Rowling

Former director of strategy and innovation at The Children's Society, and founding partner of Flying Cars

The innovation journey

It’s true that improving all those things listed above (including the cat policy) will contribute to a truly innovative organisation with effective services, engaging products and strong communications, all behind a dynamic brand that is a brilliant place to work. But innovation can’t just be dropped in wholesale like a portaloo being airlifted into a festival. There are different doors to go through, different stakeholders to persuade and different eyes to open. 

Innovation is fast paced and changing by its very nature. No guide can be absolutely current, comprehensive, or definitive. That’s what Google is for. This is a starting point for thinking and behaving differently.

And if you ever get lost, just click the Home button. Ready?

Let’s go.

Section 2

Be more [than] Darwin.

A challenge for the sector

Context is very important if we’re to understand how innovation can make the most impact within the sector. By reviewing what we know of the sector, we can see how best to apply innovative thinking and doing.

The charity sector is the most incredible concept within society. The fact that companies and individuals in the UK were willing to give £73bn in 2016 to help causes without any direct return, reward or incentive, highlights the power of the proposition of doing good.

The sector’s work is vital to the lives of millions of humans, species, cultures and environments. And it exists because of our ability to connect emotionally with an audience. Without supporters, the sector would collapse. 

The end premise of any charity is to make the world, in their own way, a better place. Change is inherent in every vision. But, for a sector that feeds on change, it remains largely risk averse and with little emphasis on innovation and creativity.

Why is this? A misperception that innovation costs a lot and is risky. Why? Because innovation is usually thought of as big, unwieldy, investment intensive, untested and untestable. 

What does that give us? The same old same old. Not only in terms of supporter propositions and engagement but in service design and delivery, in employee recruitment and development, in supply chain, logistics and supplier relationships, and in culture, process and leadership.

The sector has a moral imperative to be as effective as it can be because it is entrusted with billions of pounds to make the world a better place. Everyone working in and for the sector must exceed all expectations. We must work harder and smarter than any other sector. The future just might depend on it.

To be as good as you can you need to constantly review and learn and change. Society never stands still. And neither should charities. There needs to be a cultural shift in the way charities think so they begin to understand and embrace innovation, and then demand that their workforce are as innovative and creative as a Californian tech startup. 

Karmarama/Accenture Interactive’s strategy lead, Sarah Jane Blackman, discusses social innovation and the need for the sector to keep progressing if it’s going to capitalise on the new philanthropy.

Sarah Jane Blackman

Sarah Jane Blackman

Strategy Lead Karmarama/Accenture Interactive

Philanthropy ‘remixed’ for the next generation

“It’s Monday. On my walk to work, my Google community alert beeps to tell me that Cathy, a young lady with visual impairment, needs assistance at a hectic crossing opposite my station. I can just see her now at the end of the road, I tell Google I’m on my way. Settled on the train I check my email, opening a jubilant video from a family in Glasgow, reporting back on Theo’s back surgery last night, a life changing procedure that I have co-funded with some friends at work. I walk the last 25 minutes to work from Victoria, and try to not lose pace, to make sure my fitness app automatically donates money to my favourite music charity Raw Material. I feel good Nice to feel I have an impact on the world, in my own small way…”

Innovation is more than technology

This is not my own personal fantasy but the kind of social innovation that is happening right now, all over the world, shaping a new set of behaviours that is becoming normalised by a whole generation of young people. And while it’s tempting to pin this innovation on the back of rapid technology adoption, it’s important to acknowledge the social and human dimension behind this change. Because only by understanding the forces that are shaping a new world of philanthropy, can traditional charitable institutions prepare for the future, and the expectations that go with it.

Social media for social change

According to the Blackbaud report The Next Generation of UK Giving 2017, Gen Z’s and Millennials contribute the largest amount of money to charity. In 2017 they gave £2.7 billion, 30% of the total donated. This is helped by the sheer size of these cohorts (17 million residents in the UK), but also by the existential angst caused by the economic, political and social impact of the 2007 global financial crisis. This destabilising environment has made them deeply insecure about their place in the world and its future. And it’s not something we can ignore. Social media provides the perfect megaphone to vent their anxiety and ideologies.

Digital idealists

It is an exciting time for philanthropy, not just because these idealists are creative and more generous than their predecessors, but also because their digital mastery makes them extremely influential and disruptive and more likely to attract huge funding and support. Since 2012 these so called ‘good’ tech companies have been multiplying by up to 30% year-on-year. The Ocean CleanUp, Simprints and Impossible foods are great examples of how young visionaries continue to captivate investors and talent with their unexpected solutions to world problems. Dutch entrepreneur Boyan Slat founded The Ocean Cleanup in 2013 at age 18, with the aim of reducing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by up to 50% within the next five years.

Taking a leap of trust

A decade ago these entrepreneurs may have seemed like eccentric dreamers, but trust and faith in technology enabled social enterprise and not for profit is growing. As Rachel Botsman writes in her recent book, ‘Who can you trust’, the whole dynamic of trust is in transition. Institutional trust in traditional top down organisations is waning in favour of a distributed model of trust, which is accelerating due to the rise of peer to peer technology services. Their grassroots beginnings, simple ideas and intuitive platforms creating trust between huge networks of individuals, have ultimately made us more confident to take ‘trust leaps’ into new ways of consuming and doing business. It has caused a total re-evaluation of who we can count on and who merits our loyalty.

We can already see how this phenomenon is playing out in the FMCG sector. Huge margins are being taken away from legacy corporations with $18bn of sales shifting from large multinationals to small brands in the past five years. The likes of P&G and L’Oreal are being outwitted by small, nimble disruptors, such as The Honest Company, Drunk Elephant and Seventh Generation.

These companies are openly rejecting the status quo, and as such are a pure reflection of millennial ideals. They feel intrinsically ‘good’ and act more like passionate communities than companies, creating movements around simple ideas that make an immediate difference to people’s lives.


The staggering growth of these disruptors is also due to very high levels of customer intimacy. They have an amazing ability to garner vast amounts of customer intelligence, so they can serve up a continuous stream of rewarding experiences, perfectly adapted to people’s needs. Which in turn creates sticky brand environments that become impossible to live without.


Brands that stick in the consumers’ minds.

“As new business models give people more confidence to solve bigger problems, the line will inevitably start to blur around what is and isn’t ‘charity’.” 

What is exciting about good startups such as goDeed, Charitystars and Olio is that they are starting to use similar techniques to create behaviour change at scale, for both the users and service beneficiaries. With their beautiful interfaces, inbuilt transparency at every level, and a more engaging way of connecting people with the causes they resonate with, people feel closer than ever to the prospect of seeing positive change happen before their eyes.

The future is blurred

Currently these social disruptors seem harmless against the face of Big UK Charity. But slowly they will start to eat around the edges, tapping directly into multi-generational needs, by giving people a lot more immediacy, flexibility, ease, and enjoyment when it comes to giving and doing good. And as new business models give people more confidence to solve bigger problems, the line will inevitably start to blur around what is and isn’t ‘charity’. Simply buying some uber-trendy Warby Parkers, with the knowledge that your purchase has donated a pair of glasses to someone in need, could be considered a valid and exciting expression of doing good.

It’s time to change the model

In his famous TED talk, activist Dan Pellotta talks about the puritanical belief system and ‘double standards’ crippling non-profit organisations from attracting the right talent and solving massive world problems. We expect so much from charity and yet we don’t allow them to have the same foundations as any normal successful organisation. He dreams of a world where charities can harness the same rule book as the economic world, a world ‘where it is ok to reward charities for their big goals and big accomplishments, even if that comes with big expenses’. Looking at the evolving state of the ‘good’ sector, with its many different facets, it is possible that younger generations will be more prepared to tear up the rule book and make his fantasy a reality.  They may start to see that creating a lasting impact is completely incompatible with the idea of a charity running with no money, no overhead spending, no advertising budget and no scope for risk taking.

It’s time to know more

While great leaps have been made in fundraising with young people in the UK, it is clear the majority of charities do not yet fully grasp how to harness their positive and negative energy. The key to making a transition into next generation philanthropy unscathed, is to get under the skin of this cohort, find ways of nurturing their unorthodox ideas, and use their creativity and openness to create impact.

Find out more about Sarah’s work at

Charities aren’t that different to any other sector organisation. They exist within a competitive marketplace. They need to constantly find fresh ways to reach new audiences and develop stronger, more committed relationships.

But there are distinct differences between Amazon, Accenture and your average charity. Budgets are always tighter. There are always multiple priorities, activities and audiences. And resources are always stretched. Innovation can address all these issues and more, if it’s approached and implemented in the right way. It’s neither a cure all or quick win, but it can allow you to do more with what you’ve got.

The good news is charities have what consumers are increasingly looking for. Purpose. Stories. Authenticity. All you need to do is activate them.

Being innovative needs to be baked into an organisation. It can and should be present in everything an organisation does, be it research, strategy, processes or creativity.

Section 3

What isn’t innovation?

The 12 myths of innovation

The best way to define something can be to look at what we’re not talking about. Time to bust some myths.

Innovation is confusing because there are multiple interpretations and definitions of what it is. Is it using technology differently? Is it a new process? Is it part of being creative? Does it mean inventing something new? And the answer, of course, is yes. And no. And maybe.

Myth 1: Innovation is coming up with something the world has never seen before

When thinking about innovation it is important to remember that it is not just one thing but a multitude of ideas rolled into one. As’s Bill Walker points out it can be useful to position innovation somewhere between invention and evolution. 

It involves the act of creating something new but in the context of building on what’s gone before. It’s a prerequisite that whatever the innovation is, it will be picked up and used immediately. This is different from some inventions which can lie dormant for years, waiting for society to catch up, or never get adopted at all.

Myth 2: Innovation is the next iteration of an existing thing

Innovation isn’t the same as evolution. Evolution is a natural progression as new ideas, technologies, insight and practices become available and enable the next iteration of the product or service. Innovation is different because it demands more creativity than just waiting for progress to happen naturally before producing the next iteration of whatever you’re developing, hence the invention aspect.

Myth 3: Innovation is using more technology

There’s a close relationship between innovation and technology but don’t confuse the two. Innovation is a lot wider. It involves insight, process, collaboration, creativity and communication. It can mean cultural shifts or new ways of working. It can be done by one person or a whole organisation.

Myth 4:  Innovation is having a lightbulb moment

There’s a reason the adage of genius being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration remains popular. It’s because it’s true. Innovation borrows and develops ideas, iterates, tests, gets backing, follows a process, has objectives and can fit into frameworks. Sorry, it’s not as sexy as it sounds.

Myth 5: Innovation is a new concept 

Innovation didn’t start with Steve Jobs. We’re hardwired to push progress and humans have been innovating for thousands of years. 

Myth 6: Innovation is popular

As Garth Algar stated: “We fear change.” Self-preservation makes us conformists and it takes a lot of effort to accept and support something new. Scott Berkun, author of the best selling The Myths of Innovation, challenges us to try standing up in a meeting when everyone else is sitting down and see what your colleagues say. We love saying “we’re all for new ideas”, but try translating that into investment.

“We fear change” 

– Garth, Wayne’s World


Myth 7: The good ideas behind innovation are rare

As we’ll discuss later, most organisations have a lifetime of good ideas. Humans are intrinsically creative and excellent problem solvers. The key is prioritising and investing in the most suitable innovations for your organisation at that moment in time.

Myth 8: Innovation is the progression of the best idea

The inherent quality of an innovation is only part of the story. There are plenty of reasons why bad ideas are popular and good ones don’t get off the drawing board. Scott Berkun highlights “culture, prevailing design, politics, product execution, inflexible traditions, economics and short termism” as some of the reasons why the best ideas don’t always win and vice versa (unhealthy fast food packaged in environmentally damaging container, anyone?). 

Myth 9: Innovation is coming up with a shiny new thing

Jonathan Vehar of the Center for Creative Leadership believes innovation applies to business models, networks, systems, processes, services, channels, customer experiences and more. You might end up with a new fundraising product or digital app, but you can get more out of innovation if you apply principles across all your areas of work.

Myth 10: Innovation is a niche

You don’t need a glass lab on London’s Old Street roundabout full of flat white drinking beard strokers playing air hockey to do innovation. Whatever your role and whatever your team, you can benefit from at least looking at how you can be more innovative. As a concept, a principle and an approach, it’s there for everyone. So get involved.

Myth 11: Innovation is expensive and exclusive

As with #10, innovation is scalable and there’s no excuse for not adopting at least a few techniques, principles or processes in this guide to start you off. 

Myth 12: Innovation is a big bang

Launching new things in a blaze of PR is expensive and a huge potential risk. More and more brands like the BBC and Google innovate and iterate with limited fuss and coverage. A stream of new innovations that are put out there for audiences to test and feedback on can increase insight and deepen audience relationships.

Section 4


Innovation and strategy

Innovation. Strategy. Two words that conjure up a third. Expensive.

The good news is innovation is free. Admittedly, implementing some of the things you discover along the way might cost you, but working in an innovative way could be less of a drain on resources than business as usual. And you’re likely to get a lot more done.

The challenge is to make sure you’re optimising your effort. How do you do this? By working strategically, of course.

Why don’t you have a strategy?

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) defines strategy as “nothing more than a commitment to a set of coherent, mutually reinforcing policies or behaviors aimed at achieving a specific competitive goal”. Which in non-HBR language means you set a plan to achieve something and you stick to it.

We should be working strategically all the time. As the HBR points out, it’d be hard to find a reputable organisation without some kind of organisational strategy, (or fundraising strategy, services strategy or research strategy), but when it comes to innovation, it’s rare there’s anything set down to follow. 

Without a strategy any work (good or bad) that is happening within the organisation isn’t known about at the right level. It’s not judged against the organisational objectives. It’s not aligned with priorities. There might be pockets of brilliance, but they won’t be having as much effect as they could if they were part of a strategic direction.

The benefits of strategic innovation

Because innovation can be used by any team, whatever their disciple or objectives, there can be clear gains by looking at innovation strategically. Your marketing team spend time and effort understanding your audiences to help develop new products and campaigns. Digital will be trying out new technologies, optimising the user experience and refining their dashboards. Research are always horizon scanning and implementing open collaboration with their global peers. Fundraising focus on their targets and the best way to deliver against the bottom line. When all the teams are focused on the same innovation strategy, the resource and benefits become aligned.

We can learn from each other. We can use the same tools. We can inform each other’s development. And it’s all more efficient, quicker and cheaper.

An institution of innovation

Blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan is a great example of using innovation strategically. It uses science and research to direct all its work, investing in and adapting the latest technology to improve results. The charity was born from innovation: its founder Shirley Nolan set up the world’s first stem cell register. Forty years later, through investing in innovation to reach its objectives, the charity uses the results to shape the content of its organisational values, comms, fundraising and marketing. The Anthony Nolan Research Institute (the charity’s research unit) not only develops new methods of saving more lives but is also a crucial tool in engaging with a wider audience.

Ask yourself this…

To begin to create an innovation strategy, try and answer the following questions posed by the HBR:

1. What value will your innovation add to the lives of your customers

Trying to ‘do innovation’ for the sake of it won’t help anyone. It’s time to focus. What’s the point in what you’re doing? Are you making a product work better? Are you making a service more accessible? Are you making a technology cheaper and available to more people? Are you increasing awareness and understanding of an issue?

For example, charity: water innovates to increase transparency so donors can see where their money is going and how effective the charity is being, increasing trust and engagement. It makes sense for them to invest effort in using tech to geo-tag their projects and create an open interface for their supporters.

Scope is focused on creating space for parents and children to relax and enjoy learning together. The charity’s Mindful Monsters product increases awareness of a new way to build relationships. It makes sense for Scope to invest effort into new product development, user research and marketing to raise awareness of Mindful Monsters so they can support more families.

2. How will your organisation benefit from your innovations?

To keep growing, the effort you put into innovation has to work for your organisation as well as customers. Is the work you’re doing with innovation reducing costs, increasing awareness, attracting more supporters, improving lifetime value of donors or cutting attrition rates? How can you make sure your innovations are worth the investment now and in the future?

We speak to Christian Graham, innovation specialist and former digital transformation manager at Friends of the Earth, about the relationship between strategy and innovation.

Christian Graham

Christian Graham

Innovation specialist and former digital transformation manager, Friends of the Earth

How would you define innovation? And what’s the difference between innovation and having a good, new idea?

I like George Couros’ (author of The Innovator’s Mindset) definition of innovation best:

“A way of thinking that creates something new and better.”

It’s simple and it covers the key things I believe separate innovation from concepts like ideas, creativity and getting things done. 

Ideas are necessary for innovation but, without execution and a process for testing and evaluation, they aren’t innovation.

In innovation, ideas don’t always have to be new or even that good as they will be tested and the assumption is that they will evolve anyhow. Sometimes the application of an old successful idea from an unrelated field to a new one can result in the best kind of innovation.

Creativity often results in something novel, but it isn’t always proved to be objectively better.

Lastly, business as usual isn’t innovation although it may include processes to ensure a certain amount of it.

How can innovation help grow an organisation, in terms of brand, income, supporters or service users (or all of the above)?

I’d suggest that innovation is the only way an organisation can grow and thrive in the longer term. Kodak is the unfortunate poster child of what happens if you don’t innovate. In their case, they had the technology but failed to innovate their business model. We humans like new and better things. They will always get our attention and, if they create value, our time and money too.

From a supporter or service user perspective, taking a design thinking approach to innovation where end users can be involved in the entire process (from problem definition to prototyping) should result in a much better solution that meets their needs and hopefully higher levels of engagement.

In terms of income, some innovation tools, such as a social business model canvas, can help you consider non-traditional charity sources of revenue including affiliates, re-bundling or social franchising. Process innovation in the form of automation could enable you to capture more value from an existing source of income.

Lastly, all of these will contribute to building people’s experience of your brand. Doing some types of innovation can create a certain amount of PR and help with testing an idea in the real world.

One example of this was our early experiments in augmented reality. Supporters could point their phone’s camera at certain adverts and see the impact manufacturing was having on communities in Southeast Asia. The app also gave supporters a series of actions they could take. It wasn’t as polished as we would have liked, but it did get significant coverage in the tech press and help apply pressure on industry giants to change.

What are some of the key responsibilities when you’re tasked with using innovation?

For most of my career, I’ve had to balance the need to innovate in the areas I’m responsible for with managing business as usual. Each innovation I’ve introduced has usually required a degree of managing organisational change too. Figuring out how to divide my time between each of those areas was crucial.

Here in the disruptive innovation team at Friends of the Earth we focus innovation on projects that fulfil three criteria: 1) mobilise grassroots support, 2) achieve our organisational goal and 3) where innovation is a just solution. The areas where they overlap can be quite small and that’s deliberate so we don’t get pulled down interesting rabbit holes.

Personally, I am looking for at least a 10 times the impact return on investment. In 2018, I identified around a dozen problems at Friends of the Earth, which if solved could result in an equivalent impact of £1m or more and then I tried to tackle each of them in the space of a month or so. They ranged from improving diversity in staff recruitment to reducing the costs of one of our fulfilment processes.

Related to this, another question I like to ask is: “Am I uniquely placed to progress this?” If not, then perhaps I can support someone else who is a better fit.

“Is this the right time?” is another filter. Hype and excitement around a technology can mean you are too early to get the best from it.  For example, I’ve seen at least three generations of virtual reality in my career each offering a substantial improvement on the previous version and getting a little closer to achieving mainstream cut through. Arguably, virtual reality is still not quite there.

What are the trademarks of an organisation that is using innovation strategically?

A clear plan for how innovation will help reach the organisation’s goals. This could include:

A core innovation strand which includes testing and optimisation of your existing organisation’s process and products. This alone won’t avoid a Kodak moment. It may even enhance the risk.

A proactive approach to avoid being disrupted by competitors and new technology and tackle big challenges. One option might be a separate team (as at Friends of the Earth) or a skunkworks around a particular challenge. There are strong reasons why this should be a separate unit – not least because organisations often develop something akin to an immune response to radically new solutions and approaches and can kill them with bureaucracy.

A bias towards placing lots of small bets in terms of time and money on experiments rather than relying on polishing a really good but expensive and untested idea. Progression to pilots and scaling as a separate venture and integrating into business as usual only happens if a trial meets agreed upon criteria.


A skunkworks project is a project developed by a small and loosely structured group of people who research and develop a project primarily for the sake of radical innovation.

Drawing on trends and approaches in the commercial space and figuring out how they can be applied to the charity sector.  For example, at Friends of the Earth as part of our digital transformation work, we realised we need to understand the startup sector better, and so instigated our startup in residence programme.

Setting goals around staff building their personal networks. The size and diversity of your own personal network is a key indicator of innovation.

An organisation that celebrates the right kind of failure. Failure when trying something new and possibly better that builds on previous learning is good failure. Repeating and failing to learn from the mistakes of the past because of poor knowledge management isn’t.

A recruitment, on-boarding process and development programme that favours the building of strong internal networks to enable cross-fertilisation of ideas and differing perspectives. That could include recruiting and developing Pi shaped staff (those who are strong and deep in at least two unrelated domains), an internal secondment programme and/or a tour of duty approach to expose staff to different parts of the organisation.

What should charities be looking for in terms of successful use of innovation?

Innovation is a numbers game. There are things you can do to improve the odds but it basically comes down to how many things you try. Success looks like clearly articulated challenges or problems and a high rate of testing ideas and rolling out what works.

Longer term, it means gaining a reputation for taking ideas through to fruition. Lastly, some of your approaches and projects should challenge the status quo and result in the change you want to see in the world.

Not all charities have the means to a discreet innovation budget, and technology can be prohibitively expensive. How can smaller charities keep on top of new developments and still benefit from them?

If you have an idea that you think might help, go out and talk to your users and communities about it as soon as possible. You will often learn more in a five-minute phone call than in an hour around a desk with colleagues or researching on the internet. Early in our solar for schools campaign, I made a point of speaking to those responsible for building and energy management in a number of local authorities. I was quickly disabused of the notion that there was anything like a standard response to the opportunity of solar.

When developing a new product, service or market what should we be looking for in terms of success and failure? As we go through the process, how do we keep on track?

Indicators of success can take many forms.

I make a point of talking to people from all walks of life about my work – and gauging their reaction and listening to suggestions. Essentially, all feedback is good – and I would prioritise feedback from external users and funders over colleagues. Energy and excitement from a variety of people or a particular audience is often a good indicator you are onto something.

Being invited to submit funding proposals for prototypes can be another great indicator. 

Otherwise, any movement in the right direction using traditional metrics like email sign ups to hear more feedback  is always encouraging.

I really like the business model canvas as a tool for keeping on track. If you’re in danger of not being able to see the wood for the trees, then going back to your canvas and reminding yourself what you were trying to achieve through testing can help a lot.

Find out how Christian’s work is shaping the future of Friends of the Earth at

For F’s sake

The other famous F-word. Failure, is an intrinsic part of the innovation process. Without failure it is impossible to imagine that you have created anything original or different from that which has gone before. If you don’t fail you’re not taking enough risks.

Henry Rowling, founding partner of innovation collective Flying Cars, and former director of strategy and innovation at The Children’s Society, guides us through how it can be OK to fail.

Henry Rowling

Henry Rowling

Founding partner Flying Cars, and former director of strategy and innovation at The Children's Society

The difference between talking about failing and actually failing

Many organisations talk about the need to fail fast and learn, but in practice building a culture that tolerates talking about failure and openly celebrates it is less palatable to those at the top of the tree. But why is that?

Modern life is now hard-wired to only show the good stuff Facebook and Instagram are not plastered with pictures of people two minutes after they just woke up with dribble down the side of their face, wearing their 10 year old comfortable pyjamas that’s the real story.

In sport we celebrate the winners and on very rare occasions the losers, and entire industries are littered with award ceremonies. Celebrating the latest success stories that really only tell one myopic side of the story the public facing side companies and shareholders want us to see.

And businesses are full of humans that feel the same way. We want to appear competent at work as it helps us progress and get on. Charities face a further complication in this area we don’t want to talk about our failures, because by implication we have not spent donor money well. That’s a tough sell internally.

Failure is normal

How can we help to build a culture that embraces failure? The first major step is to normalise it. We need more people talking about their failures, more often. Like East African Play’s partnerships manager, Andy King, talking about what he learned in a year by making some mistakes.

These are all mistakes I have made in the past: over complicating products, being too ambitious about capacity, over committing and not prioritising. Imagine a working world where we couldn’t admit to these things. It’s important to have a culture where we can openly talk about what has gone wrong in the past. We’d save money, stress and increase the impact for beneficiaries.

How can we help to build a culture that embraces failure?

By reading about the kinds of mistakes other people have made, you can try not to repeat them in your organisation. Normalisation starts from the top, so if you can encourage your CEO and senior leaders to talk about some of their failures it gives permission to all other staff to follow suit. Without this it’s unlikely more junior members of staff will feel comfortable talking about mistakes they have made.

Part of the normalisation process has started within the charity sector and with social enterprises which is why the Pizza for Losers movement is encouraging fundraising professionals to talk about the various failures they have endured over their careers. There are two events coming up in June, one in Newcastle and one in London, which aim to get people discussing and learning about failure.

Nobody is perfect

Learning is impossible without a culture that encourages discussing things that have not gone well freely. And if you want to be an organisation that continuously improves then you must learn from the past.

Without a culture that talks openly about things that could have been done better people either try and bury campaigns or pieces of work that have not gone well, or they try and pass off badly performing campaigns as actual successes. For obvious reasons neither are healthy.

Happily organisations are starting to be comfortable in the F-word space. StreetLeague and Clic Sargent now talk about areas of the business that could have gone better in their annual reports.

Supporters, funders and stakeholders are intelligent if you only present success you may lose credibility.

Failure engenders bouncebackability

Facing rejection and feeling like a failure is part of a journey that in some instances leads to huge success. For instance, Oprah Winfrey was fired from her news reporter job at a Baltimore news station and Steve Jobs was famously fired from Apple.

Steve Jobs said:

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

The startup community is more comfortable talking about failure it is an intrinsic part of that scene. Have a look at a fantastic resource called Failory for some of the common mistakes that people launching new ideas make.

Fail on the job

The DIAL IT UP innovation methodology we use at Flying Cars requires us to have processes in place to help minimise risk and allow for learning and adjustments to the business model. This will help you to incorporate learning as you test new ideas with the target market. 

Specifically after the prototype stage we analyse the initial results, take time to understand the drivers and then suggest a pivot in a different direction if required, allowing learning on the job and creating a cycle of continuous improvement. Solid business case work can help mitigate and identify risks to help your organisation understand the level of risk they are taking on through your innovation work.

Confession time

And in the spirit of sharing and normalisation, here are the top three mistakes I’ve made working in innovation over the years:

  1. Not communicating ideas upwards to more senior stakeholders. The consequence of that is they may not understand or support the idea at a stage when you are asking them to invest and sign off. Always over communicate your big ideas.
  2. Launching a product that wasn’t rooted in solid insight. At The Children’s Society I worked on a 30-day fitness challenge product called Tough n Buff. We all got carried away with what we thought was a good idea, but we didn’t conduct the right research with the target audience. Always start your ideas process from audience insight rooted in need.
  3. Not using a low-cost prototype as a minimal viable product. See campaign above. We went all out and built a complex, lovely looking platform to test the idea. Always lean test as cost effectively as you can to minimise risk and spend until you have proof of concept. 

Risky business

In innovation risk needs to be carefully managed. By definition you are trying something new, and there is not a track record of delivery for this new idea.

It’s worth establishing what the risk appetite of your organisation is. Some products are high risk high reward, while others are low risk low reward discuss with senior staff what kind of innovation they think is best for the organisation. There’s no point working on disruptive ideas if others want incremental product improvements with existing audiences.

You can eliminate the risk involved in innovation by:

  • Making sure your idea is rooted in audience insight. This increases the chance of success as you have co-created with the audience in mind.
  • Lean testing. This means testing as low cost as you can with the target market before you commit to big levels of spend.
  • Communicating your process. Some colleagues might think innovation is just big, wild ideas pulled out of nowhere, but the opposite is true so make sure you tell people.
  • Creating a proper, extensive business case that covers all bases. This will build confidence upwards so your idea is well thought through and you’ve anticipated potential risks prior to launch and investment.

Flying Cars is an innovation, insight and strategy collective for beyond-profit organisations and cause-driven brands

In the end, strategy is essential to continued success. It can be as simple as writing down how you’re going to get to where you’re going, rather than just travelling. For many organisations, where innovative work might be happening already, taking the time to review who’s doing what, why, when and how can make a huge difference to business efficiency, working practices and the impact everyone makes.

Section 5

From Routine to Radical.

Different innovation models

While technology is often seen as a precursor to being more innovative, some of the major leaps forward in the past decade have come from changes in business models. True, brands like Uber, Netflix and AirBnB need a level of tech to sit on, but it’s the thinking differently about how a business could operate that makes them stand out.

Business professor and Harvard Scholar Gary Pisano created an Innovation Landscape map that connects four of the major approaches an organisation can take to innovation. Using changes in technology and changes in business model along the two dimensions, you can explore your ability and appetite to use different types of innovation.

The Innovation Landscape Map

When creating an innovation strategy, companies have a choice about how much to focus on technological innovation and how much to invest in business model innovation. This matrix, which considers how a potential innovation fits with a company’s existing business model and technical capabilities, can assist with that decision.

Source: Corning; Gary P. Pisano. From You Need An Innovation Strategy, June 2015

Routine (sometimes called incremental) innovation keep doing what you’re doing

Using existing technology and business models, an organisation will incrementally improve what it’s doing as the prevailing landscape improves. For example, the iPhone gets bumped up a notch every 18 months and the same people (more or less) buy it. This is the kind of innovation for you if you’re not up for a challenge. It’s like having an Instagram account because everyone else has one.

Disruptive innovation change the business model and keep the same tech

You don’t always need technological breakthroughs to be disruptive this is all about changing the way you do things as a business and disrupting your category or market. For example, the first few decades of the existence of the motor car didn’t really change much. They were too slow, fragile and expensive to threaten the dominance of the horse as the preferred transport method. It was only when Henry Ford came along and started to mass produce them at a price the majority could afford that the revolution occurred. The internal combustion engine doesn’t change much until someone makes it accessible.

Radical innovation use new tech and the same business model to wow customers

The polar opposite of disruptive, radical innovation keeps an organisation in the same business and market but invests heavily in research and development to make new and better stuff. The Anthony Nolan Research Institute is a great example of investing purely into research to improve results, even to the extent of repurposing technology to save more lives.

Architectural innovation change your business model and use new tech

Not for the fainthearted, change on both fronts comes with increased risk but with the chance of major rewards. cites Salesforce as a brand which has managed to win using architectural (or breakthrough) innovation. Since its launch in 1999, Salesforce’s CRM system has successfully harnessed a brand new cloud computing technology platform alongside a new brand business model software as a service. The business has been named as one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies by Forbes four years in a row.

Get the balance right

It’s not often that ratios work in the real world, but there is a general rule to follow when looking at where to invest your time and effort when it comes to innovation. Harvard Business Review research among companies in the industrial, technology and consumer goods sectors, found those that allocated about 70%of their innovation activity to core initiatives, 20% to adjacent ones and 10% to transformational ones outperformed their peers by 10-20%. And Larry Page of Google uses this as his guiding rationale to innovation, so it’s probably right…

However, we’re not saying this rationale is right for every single company. The takeaway should be that you need to find a mix that works for you, based on your product and service portfolio, resources, market position, organisational strategy and audiences. 

Christian Graham, innovation specialist and former digital transformation manager at Friends of the Earth, discusses the different types of innovation organisations can play with.

Christian Graham

Christian Graham

Innovation specialist and former digital transformation manager, Friends of the Earth

Innovation has lots of sub-types, and definitions differ. I like the three-horizon approach of Core, Adjacent and Transformational innovation:

Core innovation refers to optimisation of existing processes, products and services to reduce costs and/or increase revenue, profitability and other forms of engagement. Digital split testing of your website would fall into this category and might be a good place to start as the tools are already well developed. I’d regard this as the bare minimum for maintaining your place to avoid getting left behind.

Adjacent innovation is about looking at existing products, services and approaches and innovating them to serve new audiences or new forms of distribution. For example, you might be taking existing paper resources or helpline services and looking to deliver them via a Facebook-based chatbot as we are currently experimenting with. In any case, you are taking existing insights and trying to grow your impact by applying them elsewhere.

Transformational innovation starts with your mission, your goals, and your supporters’ or service users’ needs and looks at how new approaches and technologies could enable you to deliver change in what might be radically different ways. According to Diamandis of X-Prize fame, technologies can be fantastic enablers of disruption:

  • Digitisation: What are you currently doing that requires a physical location, person or materials, but could be partly or purely digital?
  • Democratisation: How could you give service users more of a say? Or even ownership?
  • Demonetisation: How could you make a currently expensive service free?
  • Deceptive: What might technology that is in the early stages of the hype cycle do for your organisation’s impact if it doubled in capability and/or adoption in a few years?

If you are starting from scratch or in a risk averse culture, start with core (continuous) innovation. As Sir Dave Brailsford’s work with British Cycling showed, you can get quite far through the accumulation of small gains across a number of areas. That might help build the case for more resource going into other riskier areas of innovation.

Start by laying the ground for what disruptive innovation could look like at your organisation. This initial work should include getting buy-in for a new approach including the use of case studies.

What are the criteria you’ll use to filter the ideas you work on and who’ll you work with? Some element of strategic alignment with your organisation’s goals should be part of this. Be aware that disruptive innovation can be a divisive term which is open to misunderstanding or even co-option.


Hype cycle
The hype cycle is a graphical representation of the life cycle stages a particular technology goes through from conception to maturity and widespread adoption.

You could then figure out if there are particular challenges you want to work on.

Then form your team, set yourself a deadline to report back and have a go at solving them! Global design company IDEO’s design thinking approach might be a good place to start in terms of a process to follow. You can download a guide from

NESTA also has a lot of tools on how to innovate:

Using innovation models can focus your thinking and guide you through what can be a new and confusing set of rules. Don’t feel beholden to any particular model. Picking and choosing what works for you and building on what already exists are central to innovation. Then package up your new way of doing things, give it an acronym and share it with the world. Who knows, you might just form the next social innovation agency.

Section 6

Not like that,
like that.

How to implement innovation

Once you’ve got your head around the strategic side of innovation, it’s time to roll your sleeves up and get practical. And as much as nature abhors a vacuum, innovation loves a process.

While it’s not mandatory to follow any discreet process, research shows that treating innovation as a discipline and following some kind of plan can keep you on track and working effectively.

Innovation isn’t always rocket science or brain surgery

Innovation is a concept, a journey, a set of principles and a work plan. What it doesn’t have to be is overly complicated.

As Fenella Humphreys, former fundraising innovation manager and now manager of philanthropy at Greenpeace New Zealand, points out, there are some very basic blocks to get in place before you call in the beards and flipcharts.

Fenella Humphreys

Fenella Humphreys

Former fundraising innovation manager and now manager of philanthropy, Greenpeace New Zealand

  1. Be clear about what the motivations and goals are for each project. Agree on a brief outlining the current situation and why a change is required, what the expected outcomes are, deadlines, budget for testing and any stakeholders that need to be involved.
  2. Have a look around at what your industry colleagues are doing, meet with them to compare programmes and learn from each other.
  3. Involve the team who work on the programme you are innovating to make sure they know their voices and ideas are heard — particularly in the context of how any new processes need to fit with existing ones.
  4. Write up your ideas as a proposal outlining the required investment and returns. Include what’s at risk if things don’t go to plan and the likelihood of that.
  5. Be open to trying out new things and to failure. Not all tests will work but you will at least have learnt something from them (if you document and communicate your findings to your team).
  6. Allow ideas to come from all areas of your organisation and work collaboratively to create and refine ideas.
  7. Have a clear and shared agreement of the goals.
  8. Work out what you do know and what you don’t. Test the things you don’t know to establish performance expectations and then continue to assess performance.
  9. At the start of your project identify key stakeholders and interested parties. Define their role in the project (something like a RASCI model is useful to use).
  10. Create an opportunity for people to be involved at the start of the project to get their ideas and make them feel involved. Update them throughout — even if it’s just to tell them there has been a delay. Then get their feedback on the proposal (you don’t have to act on it).

Find out more about Fenella’s work at

Look what you’ve done!

Spend time reviewing what work is involved with each of your goals for innovation. That could be more collaboration, trying something new, a different planning process or improving the use of existing technology. Break things down. Interrogate them. Understand how they relate to each other. Define their role in the strategy. Identify gaps and duplications.

It might not feel like you’re being innovative, but the more you look at your activities, plans, behaviours, strategies and goals with different filters, the easier it becomes to implement change. And that’s winning a major battle, right there.

Si Muddell, head of digital strategy at Scope, discusses his (and other) innovation processes.

Si Muddell

Si Muddell

Head of digital strategy at Scope

Tell us about yourself

I have 13 years’ experience as a digital marketing and product development professional spanning across multiple industry verticals, split 50:50 across agency and client side, and working in both the commercial (70%) and not for profit space (30%).

I’ve developed and implemented successful digital acquisition, optimisation, retention, brand, technology, and digital product strategies for brands such as Audi, Setanta Sports, APAC, Shelter UK, M&C Saatchi Sydney, Nestle, Optus, National Breast Cancer Foundation, Heineken, Melanoma Institute Australia and Weber. I’ve also been a co-owner of a digital marketing agency based in London and Leeds.

I am passionate about digital and innovation. The accountability it gives, the challenges and opportunities it can create, the endless wrestle between creativity, data and common sense to reap the best outcome; the ability to test, measure, and optimise; and it’s ever constant and forever rapidly evolving nature.

Tell us about your work at Scope

To scene set before Scope, I co-owned a digital marketing agency in Leeds and London. When working at my agency, Scope commissioned me to undertake a deep dive into digital marketing throughout the organisation that focused on expertise and competency, processes and structure, insights, and overall performance successes. The purpose was to identify key challenges and opportunities with a view to how Scope could best leverage the full capabilities of digital marketing.

Throughout this process, I was so impressed with Scope’s single-minded purpose and ambition to drive everyday equality for disabled people that I decided to take up the exciting challenge of setting up and leading a new centralised digital strategy team.

Where do you start with learning about innovation methodologies?

There are so many innovation methodologies out there; all you have to do is type ‘innovation methods’ into Google to see the varied (and often contradicting) advice. Do this, don’t do that, start here, finish there, don’t ever work from assumptions, trust your gut and so on.

It’s weird as innovation in its very essence is meant to be agile and about thinking differently and encouraging a pragmatic and creative view on things, yet some methods suggest that you must follow a particular methodology to the book. This has always seemed like a contradiction to me. The famous Henry Ford quote about ‘a faster horse’, or Steve Jobs’ product launch of the iPod which positioned Apple within the music industry, are amazing (and somewhat cliché) examples of an idea truly disrupting the norm. They weren’t based on what the audience wanted; certainly not in a linear product evolution way anyway.

Some people say all ideas must be laced in audience insight, yet there are many examples where an original idea did not originate from audience insight. The industry tries too hard to follow a rigid approach to an ever-flexing subject. Note: Audience insight is an essential part of innovative working but for the purpose of making my point, it doesn’t always need to be the starting point.

For this reason, I prefer to continually test, learn and improve on my personal and team’s approach to innovation. We use known methodologies but we also adapt and improve these to suit the nature of what we are working on. The common thread to all of our innovation work is principles.

So at Scope, we have innovation principles and an innovation process called DICE (read on below), which uses a collection of innovation techniques.

Our innovation principles are:

Inclusive Scope stands for everyday equality for disabled people. We believe that all audiences should be part of the innovation and NPD process, and as such inclusivity is at the heart of our innovation principles. Disabled people are often sidelined when companies initiate product development yet their feedback would no doubt make the products themselves far more user friendly and appealing to a much wider audience base. It makes both moral and commercial sense. 

Insight led Everything we do must come from insight, be that audience, or marketplace. It could be that we have initial assumptions and hypothesis that are not backed up by insight. This is fine, as long as we leverage insight to prove or disprove this within the process.


New Product Development covers the complete process of bringing a new product to market.

Bold Trying new things comes with a risk, the very real risk of failure. Failure is not a bad thing, it enables us to learn and improve. Organisations that succeed in innovation are bold in investing time, money and resource but not concerned about yielding an immediate return from these efforts. Good innovation takes time to get right (see the note about Dyson further down).

Collaborative We need to work together by speaking to our audiences and encouraging positive debates and outsider knowledge. We don’t know everything as the famous quote reminds us: “Knowledge is proud that it knows so much, wisdom is humble that it knows no more.” The more collaborative we are the better the end result and the quality of the insights and feedback.

DICE Innovation Process

Over the past four months, we have created an in-house innovation process called DICE; think of it like a funnel where we start at ‘Define’ and work through the process to reap continued user feedback. The last two phases consist of a continuous feedback loop between creating a prototyped solution to a live experiment that gains user insight and then the create phase where a solution is adjusted and/or rethought based on the user insight gained. This isn’t a new way of thinking about innovation, more our internal interpretation of a roadmap to follow. Dyson famously created 5,127 prototypes over 15 years while perfecting his bagless cyclone technology focused vacuum. We will never get it right first time but hopefully it won’t take 15 years!

Define Setting the scene. What is the problem, the need (the why), the opportunity, success criteria, and any initial hypothesis that we may have. For example, it may be that we are working on a specific project so not starting from scratch such as a mass participation event or an accessible version of Mindful Monsters.

Investigate Finding insights to help us ideate in the next phase. Achieved from in depth qualitative and quantitative research. This section focuses on the marketplace, the audience, defining key stakeholders, challenges, opportunities, risks, relation to the cause and scalability. Einstein is reported to have said that if he only had one hour to solve a problem he would spend “55 minutes defining the problem and the remaining five minutes solving it routinely”. We need to understand the problem to be able to ideate a solution for it.

If it’s good enough for Einstein: “55 minutes defining the problem and the remaining five minutes solving it routinely”.

Create Co-creating creative solutions. This includes product ideas, propositions, revenue models, prototypes and minimal viable products. All of these elements are then continually updated once an experiment is tested and insights gained.

Experiment and evaluate Testing your ideas in the real world with real audiences. Review, refine, repeat.

Here are some other innovative methodologies that we use:

1. Design thinking

Three criteria — desirability, viability and feasibility — specifically run throughout the ‘Create’ and ‘Experiment’ phases of our DICE process. This ensures we create something that is desirable, then uses experiments to ensure it’s feasible and viable too. Each prototype should answer different questions we have about the product, and it’s a lens to help identify what the important questions are.

2. Agile Methodology

Let me just say that I think ‘agile’ is one of the most overused and least understood buzzwords out there, both in the commercial and charity sectors. I did my agile professional diploma some time ago now, and ran a digital agency based on its methodology.


I very much believe in its principles and the theory behind it yet in practice I am constantly amazed at how it continually gets misused and misinterpreted. When used properly — such as working in concentrated sprints, maintaining a simplified Kanban (a type of scheduling system) view of your tasks, undertaking acceptance criteria for these tasks, having regular huddles and scrums, working on functionality iteratively, and using prioritisation methodologies such as MoSCoW to focus on creating a minimum viable product — then it’s great.

These are the elements that we use most:


Cloud based collaboration.

An agile framework for managing knowledge work. 


When I was head of digital and marketing for a major sports broadcaster across Australia and Asia, we ran a major acquisition campaign for Euro 2012 which helped us grow our 32-million customer base by 80,000-plus people.

The company needed a strategy to retain the new customers we had just acquired. A big problem we needed to solve was the fact that we had many sport rights but only one channel that could play one game at a time, despite having the rights to show eight games at the same time. This was a big issue for retention as people subscribed for different sports and for different teams.

With the launch of the BBC iPlayer in 2007, the BBC had set a (very good) standard for app and web based players. So we embarked on creating iOS, android, Smart TV and browser specific players. The agency we used at the time wanted to use an ‘agile’ methodology; however, the agency misunderstood the process involved leading to zero documentation, missed deadlines, poor functionality, and unhappy and bounced customers. Our reputation probably took a bit of a pounding too. In the end, we ended up redeveloping the players and apps with another company.

It wasn’t the fault of the methodology, but the interpretation of agile. Be careful, challenge when you feel things could be improved, and get yourselves skilled up. I for sure learnt some lessons from this experience, hence getting a diploma to practitioner level shortly after!

3. User Stories

We have probably all seen or used these before. I can’t shout loudly enough about how useful these are. For those that don’t know, they are essentially single-minded ‘stories’ that make up a user need.

Let’s just say we are looking at a website redevelopment. You would firstly look at your core top level customers, not by segment at this stage – more top level. For example New Customer, Existing Customer, Sales and Marketing Staff. You then create stories based on the following format:

‘As a (insert audience type), I want to (insert action), so that I can (insert benefit).’

Go wide with these and get as many as you can think of and don’t worry about repetition. Once you have all the stories, you can theme them, dedupe and test them with a wider audience, with a view to prioritising them based on user need and/or impact and resource required.



We love acronyms in marketing don’t we! Having worked in planning and strategy roles a lot of my career, I’ve seen many of these models. SOSTAC jumped out at me right at the beginning of my working life and it’s a simple methodology.

I constantly use it within presentations, strategy development, or just my verbal approach to things. I use this specifically when writing a business case or putting together a marketing plan for a product.

  1. Situation What do we know? What don’t we know? What’s going on in the marketplace? Who are the audience? What are the potential challenges and opportunities? This is very much like the ‘Investigate’ phase of DICE.
  2. Objectives Why are we doing this? What are we trying to achieve both in words and in metrics/KPIs?
  3. Strategy The what. This is normally broken down into individual strategy areas, for example proposition, acquisition, retention, processes and fulfilment, brand and optimisation.
  4. Tactics The how. This is the channel plan and the messaging.
  5. Actions The roadmap and milestone timelines.
  6. Control The analytics and measurement to ensure we maintain focus on the objectives.


5. Listening

Practice listening more innovation is often not about what you want, it’s about what your audience thinks they want, or not.

Check out Si’s work at


Design thinking a great place to start with innovation

One of the most popular innovation processes to follow is called design thinking. Design thinking is a different way of approaching a problem, challenge or opportunity. It puts the user at the heart of the development, uses a more iterative process and always looks to keep focused on a solution.

Before you start your next project or task, take a look at our quick start guide to design thinking and unleash your inner creative.   

Global design company defines design thinking as a process for creative problem solving. It’s all about putting humans at the heart of any solution you come up with. It’s about allowing more time to define the problem and explore lots of different potential solutions. It’s about testing, testing, testing. It’s about freedom to explore but within a framework.

So, say for example you’ve been given a challenge, spotted an opportunity or want to solve a problem. Let’s say you haven’t invested in your brand for years and you’re noticing other organisations are getting more PR coverage, a bigger social following and more recognition than you. That’s a problem. How will you use design thinking to find a way forward?

There’s a handy five-step process defined by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (where Tim Brown, founder of — you guessed it — teaches), and simply presented by the Interaction Design Foundation. It’s a great place to start your thinking about design thinking.

*Remember though, design thinking doesn’t have to be linear and it’s definitely iterative. Don’t confine yourself to going through them in a prescribed order. Remember this is about creative thinking and keeping the human at the centre of all those thoughts. 


Spend time with the relevant humans — beneficiaries, supporters, staff, even people who support other charities. Understand what they want from an organisation like you, what motivates them, what they like and dislike, how they spend their time and money, how they form relationships and what’s important to them. How do they see the world? What drives them forward? This is how you get to human-centred design. Don’t see people as customers, or users, or traffic. See them as humans.

Define the problem

You get all sorts of rich data and insight from empathising which puts you in the perfect position to define what the problem actually is. So, if you’re an employment social enterprise, for example, rather than saying “we need to increase our brand awareness amongst Generation Z”, the solution you’re trying to find becomes driven by “young people need to know about, be able to access and share better resources and support that’s right for them, so they can start fantastic careers”. By flipping it round, it gets everyone thinking more creatively about what’s actually needed — from the big concept stuff to the tactical details — rather than thinking about how to make a line on a graph point in the right direction and tying themselves in knots about bottom lines and ROIs.

Come up with new ideas lots of new ideas

Brainstorming, ideation, ideas generation, thinking outside the box. Call it what you will, this is the part of the process where you create loads of new ways to solve the problem you’ve defined. There are literally millions of creative thinking techniques (shall we cover this?) to get you going and keep you fired up. Remember, whatever the problem, this process works, from products to services to strategies to literal design. Everything starts with an idea.


Time to take the best of your ideas and turn them into rough, inexpensive but practical prototypes. This can include going through the steps of a new fundraising product, for example Macmillan’s Brave the Shave; looking at a new services product, for instance Scope’s Mindful Monsters; developing the initial design concepts and example material for a rebrand, or defining the elements of a brand strategy. The prototypes are shared and tested with small groups of relevant humans who try and break them and then report back. The aim is to find the ones that are successful, the ones that could be improved (and any improvements suggested by the groups) and the ones you can bin. It’s a quick and cheap way of making sure you’re thoroughly testing ideas before committing big budgets.


Once you’ve got the prototype tuned more finely, it’s time to evaluate it and further refine developments until your solution is ready to roll. The testing phase ensures that what you’ve come up with really is a solution for the problem you defined earlier, but it’s vital to remember that design thinking is inherently iterative. The testing phase will uncover new things about the users, that didn’t (and couldn’t have) come up in the empathise phase. You’ll uncover new ways of framing the problem and approaching possible solutions. And this can lead you to new ideas and prototypes.

Don’t be scared — you’re not stuck in an endless loop, and that’s why every project needs a framework for scope, time and budget.

Hannah Blowfield, Innovation Manager at Prostate Cancer UK, shares her template for running and ideation session.

Hannah Blowfield

Hannah Blowfield

Innovation Manager at Prostate Cancer UK

The keys to successful implementation are not exclusive to innovation. They form the cornerstones of good development, whatever field you’re working in. Essentially, be clear on what you’re doing, get the right resources in place, try new ways of reaching your goals and above all plan. Build in flexibility, responsiveness and collaboration and you’ll be even closer to achieving something different.

Section 7

Just Think It Differently.

Innovation and brand

First things first. Define brand. There are many interpretations as to what a brand is, but check out my presentation on brand strategy as a starting point.

How do you bring innovation into a brand? As I suggest, it all starts with defining the strategic elements and understanding your brand touchpoints.

If we agree that your brand is more than your identity, then we can begin to look at all the ways that those who interact with your brand experience it.

For most people, the banking sector is as far removed from civil society as you can get, but for almost three decades, First Direct has been held up as an innovative brand with the customer experience at its heart.

To bake innovation into your brand, you must commit to being an outward facing organisation.

No brand exists in a vacuum (insert Dyson joke here). We all operate within a market and we all have customers with needs and expectations to be met and ideally exceeded.

Say the word ‘brand’ in most (but not all) leadership or trustee meetings and you’ll be met with either mutterings about expensive fluff or several sets of glazed eyeballs. But using innovation principles and methodologies will help develop brands that are more dynamic, engaging, trustworthy and connected. And here’s how:

You will understand your audience

So much of innovation is based on insight. It’s simple, it’s uncomplicated and it’s vital. What do your customers think and feel and what makes them take action? What are their preferred communication methods? What are their expectations of your brand? How do they feel about charities or fundraisers or charity shops or altruism? Who do they listen to and believe and why? What are their hopes, fears and niggles? The more you understand your audience, the better you can respond to them.

You will stand out in a good way

Alongside insight, innovation champions creativity. Too many charity brands are developed using cookie cutters with not enough attention spent on understanding what makes them fundamentally different. And once you know that, if you base your development on innovation principles, your creative process can give you new and different executions of how your brand can be expressed. Who knows, you might not need to put ‘UK’ on the end of the condition as your name. Your fundraising advert brief might not just be ‘something sad’.

You will learn as you test

The usual creative development process is “two rounds of amends and then we start charging”. But innovation is iteration. A test and learn approach to brand development gives you an easier way to instigate incremental change (or ‘tweaks’ as they’re commonly known). This approach has the advantages of a) reducing reputational risk (you spent HOW MUCH on a rebrand?), b) not having to crowbar in a PR moment and c) keeping you closer to your audience. Check out the case study on evolving the Google logo. A masterclass in no fuss, full innovative creativity.

You will bring the organisation closer to the brand

Brand is a responsibility of every single person in an organisation. And beyond if you include volunteers, partners and supporters. But it’s usually managed and policed by one team. Innovation has collaboration at its heart. Maria Ross, writing for, says a brand can’t be mandated by leadership, it has to be defined by everyone. This is an exercise in not only putting an innovative process in place but also understanding and articulating a brand strategy. No small feat but infinitely worth it.

Ali Sanders, global brand director for British Council, shares her experience of brand and challenges the traditional definitions of innovation.

Ali Sanders

Ali Sanders

Global brand director, British Council

Your brand will use technology as an enabler, not an end point

There’s no doubt that technology can enable innovation. Throughout human evolution, the combination of tools and thinking differently has moved us forward. Raw meat is great, but add a bit of fire and hey presto, you’ve got a prehistoric Big Mac. The internal combustion engine was a revolutionary (pardon the pun) technological advancement but it wasn’t until Henry Ford created a new assembly process that cars became affordable enough to be adopted by the mainstream. 

You will be able to show you’re innovative, not just tell people you’re innovative

The charity sector is full of examples of brands being innovative across service delivery, organisational strategy and communications. To get closer to their vision of equality for disabled people, Scope knew they had to think and act differently. In 2017, Scope decided to overhaul its business model, resulting in a predicted 40% fall in income and a reduction in staff of two thirds.

To create equality for disabled people, Scope believes we all need to work together to raise awareness of disability, reach more people through digital services and change society through influencing policy. This is a long way off their previous model of running large, institutional services, like care homes. It makes the Scope brand proposition relevant, compelling and unique.

Scope is almost 70 years old, but innovation has fundamentally changed the organisation. The charity has become leaner, more relevant and avoided cultural inertia. A redeveloped brand with innovation at its heart.

You will be more open and trustworthy

Sport for employment charity Street League is well-known for its innovative brand. Its impact dashboard has confronted head-on one of the biggest fears of supporters and donors: “Where’s my money going?” Using the dashboard, you can clearly see how many young people have moved into employment over the last 12 months, what their gender and ethnicity is, and how many are still working. By including its targets, the charity is clear about successes and failures, creating a culture of transparency. This engenders trust and differentiates it from the competition in a sector that is still very much under scrutiny.

When it comes to Street League’s brand and communications, the charity doesn’t have to create an elaborate and carefully positioned brand story to engage with supporters. It lets the results do the talking.

Your communications will be driven by innovation

A 300-year old church might not be front of mind when you think about innovation in communications. But London icon St Martin-in-the-Fields is using a tradition of thinking and acting differently to attract a new generation of diverse supporters. The church is the birthplace of the Big Issue and the inspiration for Amnesty. It has welcomed refugees for decades and houses the capital’s busiest homeless shelter. It champions LGBT communities and prides itself on being welcoming of anyone, irrespective of their beliefs.

St Martin’s is now using these principles of social impact innovation (although they’d never call it something so zeitgeisty) to define its brand and case for support. It’s taken a brand new approach to communications that’s increasing impact among its audiences and being adopted by the whole organisation.

Because the brand strategy is true to the innovation of the organisation, what follows is authentic, engaging and compelling. Layer on top of that a new creative direction and a consumer-inspired visual identity and tone of voice, and you’ve got a brand that looks as progressive as it is.

You won’t have to talk about branding or innovation

Branding and innovation have a lot in common. They’re both big concepts, they’re both misunderstood, they’re both mercurial, they’re both ambiguous and they both sound expensive. Which means they both get people’s backs up.

If you want to instil more innovation into your organisation’s brand, we recommend a strategy of show, don’t tell. Use some of the techniques we’ve discussed to understand, develop, test and prove on a scale that suits your organisation, and you’ll have something more tangible than “I’ve had a great idea” to take to your next planning meeting.

Section 8

Too Much Information?

Bringing innovation to communications

The principles of innovation strategy, processes, models, leadership and culture are as relevant to the communications industry as they are to any other. As communication professionals, we exist in the same organisational ecosystem as our cousins in service delivery, technology and human resources. We are subject to the same culture, deadlines, need for resources and opportunities. We just wear trainers more often.

However, the world of communications, especially digital communications, is expanding too rapidly and moving too quickly for a moment in time resource to be much use for long. By the time you’ve read this sentence, a new innovation will have been launched, rendering that last sentence obsolete. And now this one. And this one.

Best get on with it. Here are some things to consider when planning your next to do list:

Instagram Stories

If you’re not already using Instagram Stories, hang your head in shame. Everyone loves ephemeral content (stuff which disappears after a short space of time), and Instagram is proving to be the platform of choice for making and consuming it.

Over 400 million people access Instagram stories every day and it’s a good way to add extra content without cluttering up your grid or getting bogged down in comments.

For all instagram updates, from scannable name tags to in-Story shopping purchases to new gifs and live chat options, head to the press area of Instagram’s site.

Augmented reality (AR)

This is the process of putting virtual things in the real world and accessing them through your phone’s camera or an AR headset. Remember Pokémon Go, where the entire world was congregating at 11pm at a bus stop, phones ready to capture a cuddly dinosaur? That’s AR.

There’s more to the tech than just cute creature capturing, luckily. Facebook, Apple and Google are all investing heavily in the potential for more immersive experiences. Forbes reported that Bank of America Merrill Lynch expects AR to be an $8 billion “revenue opportunity” for Apple, through sales of more phones and developing premium apps, so it’s worth seeing if your organisation can get a bite of the… Apple.

One of the main applications of AR is to let customers see themselves in a certain environment. Using the Apple ARKit developer tool, Ikea lets you place full size pieces of virtual furniture in your home. Imagine the arguments that will save.    

Both Facebook with 2 billion users and 1.3 billion people on Messenger and Instagram, which has 800 million users, have a good audience to test AR on. They have been trialling interactive adverts with brands like Pottery Barn, Michael Kors and Bobbi Brown letting customers try their products.   

Facebook is also trialling AR to connect real world movie posters with added content delivered through users’ phones. Hits Ready Player One and A Wrinkle in Time used target tracking in beta testing to increase interactivity.

And in typical Google fashion, Google is looking to augment everything. Using its Google Lens tech (which understands and translates what your phone’s camera is looking at), it is developing ways of integrating relevant content across whatever you look at, from copying and pasting pictures of text straight into your phone to playing relevant YouTube videos when you point your phone at a musician’s poster.

So what can charities do with this tech?

Charities have incredible stories to tell; in fact it’s their stories that compel people to support.

In 2018, Royal British Legion ran a campaign that used AR to tell the stories of the soldiers who were at the Battle of Passchendaele. Using different engagement methods and bringing the stories of those you’re helping to life can open an organisation up to new, especially younger audiences, bringing on board a new generation of supporters.

WWF Armenia placed an AR Caucasian leopard in its capital to highlight its dwindling numbers and loss of habitat. They asked people to find it, take a selfie with the leopard and post it to their social channels over the run of the campaign over 100,000 people interacted with the tech.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) created the Enter the Room campaign, which used AR to immerse users directly in a war situation. Director of communications and information management at the ICRC, Charlotte Lindsey-Curtet, said: “With augmented reality, we can create immersive experiences that showcase the humanitarian situation in a new and deeply moving way.”

Wearables and data collection

The global wearable devices market is expected to exceed more than US$ 51 billion by 2022. It’s big business and it’s only going to get bigger. Since the launch of the FitBit and Apple Watch, wearable technology is fast becoming part of the mainstream wardrobe.

From Google Glass to Blue Cross dog coats with contactless donation points, the potential for wearable technology is increasing as fast as our imagination allows.

The birth of mainstream wearables was weird wrist straps that monitored your movement and heartbeat. You downloaded the data to your huge desktop machine and saw a graph of your daily steps. And health and wellbeing charities have been using wearables ever since to help people keep fit and healthy, such as Age Concern’s recent collaboration with the Open University and Samsung.    

Last year, contactless payments got close to overtaking cash as our preferred donation method. Even though the technology has been used by charities for years (remember Cancer Research UK’s contactless shop windows and the Blue Cross Tap Dogs?), Movember has taken it to an even more mobile level, trialling wearable contactless donation badges. Movember says this cut down on the embarrassment factor as well as harnessing the ease and convenience of contactless. 

In 2016, Unicef Innovation launched the Wearables for Good Challenge, a global competition for tech and innovation companies to respond to some of the biggest challenges the world faced using wearable technology. The results: a digital necklace that tracks a child’s health records and a soap dispensing pen are now both successful and established business ventures. They’re also fantastic examples of how innovation and technology can be interpreted in very different ways.

And Google Glass is helping WWF researchers in Nepal more accurately plot the location and behaviour of wildlife, making it easier to share findings and making note taking in the field more efficient.

Messaging and chatbots

Not all tech has a high entry barrier. Over one billion people now use Facebook Messenger and even smaller charities can develop a chatbot to answer simple, frequently asked questions. Modern consumers expect near instantaneous responses and if they are left waiting, they’ll go elsewhere. Bots can also be better than humans at getting hard to reach groups or individuals to talk.

Over a decade ago, the NSPCC ran a campaign called TalkTown that used a FAQ bot to provide users with safeguarding information. Keeping the whole interaction anonymous meant more concerned people could seek help without worrying about being exposed. 

Unicef has created its own social media bot, U-Report, that asks questions and uses the data to highlight issues to the powers that be. When U-Report asked 13,000 Liberian school children if teachers were exchanging grades for sex, over 85% said yes. The charity was able to confront Liberia’s education minister with an evidence based problem and then support the government in finding a solution.

Social listening

Social listening isn’t just about scrolling through all the comments on your feed. All the raw, organic, unfiltered opinions, thoughts, experiences and feelings that billions of people share across all platforms without even being asked give you a ridiculous amount of human insight and understanding.

Right now, millions of people are busy typing their thoughts about cancer, international development, disability, fundraising, charity chief execs, Parkinson’s, the housing crisis, diabetes and everything else. A good social listening programme can give you an added dimension of insight that’s way more current, way more unbiased and way cheaper than traditional market research.

The key to good social listening is being clear about what you want to know and from whom. There’s so much data out there, it can be easy to be presented with a blancmange of impenetrable content because without even realising it, that’s what you asked for.

As well as lots of free search and trending tools on each individual platform, there are more and more agencies who can   for a price   give you that added insider information.

Influencer marketing

The rise of the influencer continues and they should now be a staple part of your PR strategy. But before you get frustrated that you can’t afford a weekly vlog from [INSERT CURRENT YOUTUBER], it’s worth considering a few key points.

As with everything else you do, you need to be strategic. What do you want out of the relationship? There’s no point in paying for content that isn’t going to help you get more supporters or get closer.

Are they a good brand fit? Do your research into what they’ve said and done so you don’t have any nasty surprises when that video of them cycling naked through Manchester turns up.

How much will they charge? And can you beat them down? It’s best to think about the size of their following and the size of yours. Sometimes, if you have a red hot social team, you’ll be able to make connections with some up and coming superstars who are still within your budget or willing to get involved for the publicity.

Are they endorsing anyone or anything else? If they’ve got a penchant for promoting cheap plastic toys, they might not be the best fit for Friends of the Earth.

The world of social influencers changes as quickly as your wifi connection, so keep searching for the latest sensations. Social media agency Social Chain is a good source of news and trends.

For a definitive example of how influencer marketing can blow up in a bad way, check out the Netflix documentary on the failed Fyre festival. Ouch.

Voice technology

Next year, it’s expected half of all searches will be voice searches. As voice apps and smart speakers enter the mainstream, only a handful of charities are beginning to understand their potential. Sure, at first it might be embarrassing talking to your phone or a featureless cylinder squatting sheepishly on your work surface, but they can reach new supporters, make donating increasingly efficient and provide more interaction for beneficiaries.

For example, the British Heart Foundation has launched an Alexa skill (apps for voice tech) to arrange collections of furniture and electrical items. It’s also the first UK charity to receive donations through Amazon Pay. Breast Cancer Care has a skill that talks you through what to look for when examining your breasts and WaterAid has an interactive storytelling experience that helps you learn about life in another land.


A skill is an app for a smart speaker.

Data privacy

GDPR. Wow. However you got through it, it’s now a reality and we face a more restrictive future. Forbes states: “As audience trust in media declines and concern over privacy grows, marketers will need to put the processes in place to responsibly collect, store, and protect their audience members’ information to maintain the trust they’ve worked so hard to earn.” This has to be a good thing it also means we have to work harder to earn engagement.

With the skittish state of trust in the third sector, every charity needs to think of new and more engaging ways to maintain and build their audiences while not only respecting their preferences, but really giving them what they want.

Remember every charity and social enterprise has stories that other sectors would give their hind teeth for. Would you rather sell a disposable razor or an end to poverty? Which is the naturally more compelling? From that starting point, it shouldn’t be hard to overcome a teensy bit of legislation if we just put a little more effort into our creative.


Personalisation needs to be more than a checkbox exercise. A new report from Econsultancy shows less than 10% of consumers are likely to react to an email because the brand owner addresses you by your first name or remembers your birthday. Your audience expect more intelligence than that, and the engagement rates start to rise when you offer them something they’re interested in.

Anjana Varsani, digital marketing assistant at Better than Paper, explains: “One of the big promises of online personalisation is to reduce bounce rates on websites, emails and mobile apps, to extend the time visitors spend on digital platforms.” It’s essential that the customer experience is seamless, slick, and designed around the user and what you know about them.

When you’re developing your comms strategy and going though your planning, the use of innovation is the same as with any other discipline, and the techniques in this guide can help you embed innovation from the start. Communications is by its very nature reactive, fluid and in need of constant updating. While we’ve given you a few hot platforms and current topics to think about, the more you can embed innovation principles from the start, the more you’ll benefit from being ahead of the game.

Section 9

From buckets to blockchain.

Why fundraising must keep innovating

“Our sector has been far too transactional and technique-led. It needs to innovate and give staff the freedom to do so. With charities seeing their traditional revenue streams eroding, is now the time for business as usual and further optimisation, or is it time for business unusual and a step change in our thinking?”

Marcus Missen, director of communications and fundraising, WaterAid

Fundraising needs innovation. It’s the closest the sector has to consumer facing products in the traditional sense of the word. The more time supporters spend sharing their altruistic stories of how they’re running another marathon or abstaining from another vice or climbing another ancient Aztec ruin, the more we need to develop new products with shareable (and good looking) outputs.

Remember the ice bucket challenge? The no makeup selfie? Ever since these ideas changed the landscape, fundraising teams across the globe have been trying to emulate their success. But the challenge is deeper and the answer not so mercurial. Here are some ideas our most innovative fundraisers are currently grappling with:


According to the latest government report into trust in charities, it’s still pretty bad news. Public trust and confidence remains at 5.5/10, the same as in 2016. And that was an awful year. There has been a long-term growth in the number of people who say that their trust has decreased (45%), with the biggest concern being charities’ spending. The one ray of hope is 18-25 year olds have the highest trust levels, making it vital that charities engage with new, younger donors.

One of the key concepts that can help trust scores is transparency. The more information you share, the more your audience can be confident you’re not hiding anything.

Matt Stevenson-Dodd, former chief executive of Street League, discusses why for him, transparency and innovation go hand-in-hand.

Matt Stevenson-Dodd

Matt Stevenson-Dodd

Former chief executive, Street League

Lot of charities chasing the same donors

As of September 2018, there were over 168,000 charities registered in the UK. The sector is becoming increasingly crowded. What are the options available to fundraisers to keep or increase their market share? How do they stand out? How do they connect? How do they keep up? How do they increase relevance?


The Holy Grail and Pandora’s Box of fundraising. Data can deepen relationships and bring your supporters a brilliant and unique brand experience. Data can also destroy relationships and alienate your supporters to the point they try and destroy you. What to do and how to do it?

Corporate brands with a purpose

Gillette (Real Men campaign). Dove (Real Beauty campaign). Always (Like a Girl campaign). Unilever (sustainability strategy). Iceland (No Palm Oil campaign). The for profit sector’s love of brand purpose continues to grow and it’s making it harder for charities to achieve differentiation and cut-through.

As well as the (Mc)flurry of ethics-based startups, more and more corporate multinationals and their brand stables are moving into the traditional charity homeland. And with bigger budgets and higher awareness.


The opportunities presented by the blisteringly fast pace of technology development go way, way beyond contactless donations. There are examples of charities using artificial intelligence, virtual reality, blockchain and the Internet of things but they are still very much the exception. Perceived barriers to adoption are as much of a problem as a lack of skills and experience. Basically, many tricks are being missed. 

So how can innovation help fundraisers? We talked to some of the best in the business to get their thoughts.

Fenella Humphreys, former fundraising innovation manager and now manager of philanthropy at Greenpeace New Zealand, discusses what innovation can do for your fundraising programme.

Fenella Humphreys

Fenella Humphreys

Former fundraising innovation manager and now manager of philanthropy, Greenpeace New Zealand

Often at under-resourced not for profits, innovation takes second place to programme delivery and reaching budgeted targets. Also, the word innovation can sound daunting. It sounds like something to do with software or apps. It sounds expensive and different to what your charity does. But in fact, it’s about finding better ways to do what you are already doing.

We fundraisers have this in our blood. We constantly try out new things through testing, measuring responses, tweaking and trying again. Innovation can simply mean you take a step back from your day-to-day tasks and think “hang on, how we could do this better?” It’s when you put yourself in your donors’ shoes and make changes to better reflect their needs. It might be something you’ve suddenly thought of due to a timely opportunity or something you’ve aimed to change for a while, but it takes time to get agreement and make things happen.

Review and react

Our first example is about our middle donor programme. Middle donors are usually defined by a gift range between the general and major gift groups (for example $500 – $5,000 per year (about £250 – £2,500). However, we had created distinct middle donor groups defined by their interest and giving level. After five years the programme overall was failing to reach its target. But we felt there was still an opportunity to grow giving among this group. We reviewed our programme and developed and tested an alternative with a higher return on investment. We realised two things from the review:

  1. Our current strategy of acquiring middle donors through upgrading to a specific interest group was great at moving people up the gift pyramid. But, it ignored people already giving at this level out of their own choice.
  2. We had no way of asking people who prefer to give middle-sized gifts through special appeals.

The resulting innovation was the creation of a middle donor special appeal programme. We also simplified our middle donor strategy so we could better measure and retain middle donors across our supporter base not just those that were in the distinct middle donor groups we had created.

Although this was innovation of our programme, it involved introducing one of the most traditional forms of fundraising special appeals through direct mail. And it has worked well. We are receiving larger gifts in our special appeal programme than we were before and we have been able to steward a larger proportion of our database for middle gifts.

The project was a success because we had a clear brief. An effort was made to work collaboratively with the team from the start of the project to get insights and ideas through to project completion to develop processes. We had good data on the current status and the proposed change wasn’t entirely new to us we had an existing general appeal programme. We were also able to test our ideas in advance.

A bigger splash

The project was a success because we had a clear brief.

An example of where we have made the most of a timely opportunity is by innovating our lead generation a few years ago. Greenpeace had recently completed a high-profile action as part of the Save the Arctic campaign. At the same time, we had the opportunity to use a ready-made direct response TV (DRTV) advertisement about the same campaign area. We had previously done small DRTV campaigns, but never consistently, and never using a DRTV-style advertisement. We had a chance to make the most of the media attention around the Save the Arctic action by getting our message out to a new audience, on a new channel, in a new way.

We acted quickly and were able to get a spot on TV two weeks after the action. It attracted thousands of motivated and contactable new leads for our telephone fundraising team. In the first couple of weeks, conversions to regular gifts were some of the highest we had ever had.

This project worked because we were open to failure. We had tried similar approaches before but never on the same scale. We realised the opportunity open to us and took it quickly we knew any delay would impact response. DRTV remains a central part of our lead creation.

The process of reviewing, reflecting and building on what’s gone before helps us innovate more effectively, keeping costs to a minimum and disruption under control. By interrogating the data and information we have and by asking more questions to the people who matter we can continue to better define what we need to improve.

Paul de Gregorio, founder of Rally, discusses the next steps in fundraising innovation.

Paul de Gregorio

Paul de Gregorio

Founder, Rally

Innovation is very of the moment. It seems all UK charities are creating innovation teams, appointing innovation staff or outsourcing the innovation process to external agencies.

It’s very clear that we need to innovate. Fundraising using the models, techniques and channels we’ve come to rely on is becoming increasingly difficult and I think it’s fair to say that fundraising has had a tough couple of years in the UK.

Where we’ve come from

It’s important when considering future innovation to look at the reasons above and beyond a hostile press and increased regulation we have ended up in the current fundraising environment.

1. We’ve struggled to keep up

Technology is changing at a rapid pace and human behaviour is changing at a similar rate. It was only 12 years ago that the first iPhone was introduced, and it’s incredible to consider how important the Smartphone has become to our everyday lives. Our expectations of service have changed too: we want things quicker, we want them more easily and we expect more in return for our custom or support.

It’s no longer acceptable to offer a poor online experience if our audience is expecting something better. And it’s here where we have struggled when we compare ourselves to other sectors.

2. We’ve focused on fundraising products over values

It feels as if we’ve stopped putting our values and mission up front when fundraising. Instead we’ve put all the focus on the thing we want people to do, rather than on what our organisation is here to achieve or what the impact of a supporter’s donation will be.

3. An (unhealthy) addiction to monthly giving

As a sector we have become obsessed with monthly giving and with very good reason. It’s an amazing way of raising money. But the approaches and channels we use to recruit monthly donors have become the public’s primary experience of charities, and they are not always positive.

4. Incrementalism at the cost of transformation

The dominance of monthly giving has meant that we’ve focused on working the monthly giving model as hard as possible.  Of course optimising and improving performance is critical. But surely not at the cost of investing time, energy and resource into exploring alternative offers.

5. Recruiting supporters, not attracting support

Large-scale supporter recruitment and growth has become our focus. We’ve broadcast a general message as wide as we can afford to appeal to as many people as possible and hit recruitment targets rather than inviting people who subscribe to our values to join us and change the world together.

The drive towards innovation is a good and necessary thing. But we must learn from our innovation processes and practices of the past. Particularly in monthly giving, as the copycat nature of our sector has meant that offers and channels have converged across different brands and the public’s experience has become about the giving mechanism, not the reason to give.

Innovating with technology

Whenever I’m thinking about innovation or new approaches to new or old problems I always refer back to this simple diagram, to make sure I am focusing my energies in the area where they will make the biggest difference.

Technology — what does it enable?

Does the technology exist to do the thing we want to do? It’s possible to develop anything if you have the time and money, but building from the ground up is expensive and fraught with danger. Before we build anything we need to be sure there aren’t already platforms or products in existence which we can fuse together to deliver our idea. I honestly believe that the organisations that invest time and resources on establishing the most effective way of bringing together existing technologies will be at the forefront of redefining the fundraising model.

Behaviour what are people doing?

This is important. An idea built around a fancy piece of technology that doesn’t have mass appeal or mass adoption won’t drive mass response. It is that simple. And a piece of technology that requires people to do something outside of their existing behaviours has to deliver real value and meet an identified audience need if they are to consider using it. There are too many cool ideas that end up being launched and then die quietly. To get traction, our ideas have to born out of and be built upon existing behaviour.

And while we are here. Not very many people want another login to another closed platform. We all have too many passwords to remember and the only people who will bother are your most engaged. Strive to personalise the experience of people supporting you, but don’t hide it away.

Impact what will deliver the biggest effect?

I worry this question doesn’t get asked enough. Will this idea deliver impact at the level we want or need? And for clarity I mean impact as defined by you, so that’s money, actions, likes, shares, whatever it is you know you need to achieve. Will your idea deliver it?

So, by all means develop your virtual reality fused with Android Pay idea. But don’t be surprised if the millions of people who don’t use Android Pay don’t get involved.

What next?

It feels as if we are emerging from a period of time where we’ve been really focused on what we want people to do for us and defining supporters as what they do for us, rather than as people who share our values and who want to see the same change that we do.

If we accept that this is something that needs to change, future innovation starts by focusing on what your organisation exists to do and the means by which we inspire people to join us on the journey to delivering our mission.

Inspired by movements of the past for example, the civil rights and peace movements and big digital movements in recent history like Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign how can charities apply the strategies and tactics from movement building to their public engagement strategies?

What makes a successful movement?

When we study the most successful movements they have these five things in common:

  1. A vision to believe in
  2. A believable plan to deliver that vision
  3. Values that can be subscribed to
  4. Useful (and valuable) things to do for those who participate
  5. Charismatic leadership or leaders

Which are things charities should have in abundance. And to effectively apply the strategies and tactics of movement building, charities should consider the following key factors.

We are not at the centre of the movement

A single organisation shouldn’t and can’t be at the centre of the movement. We need to listen to those who share our values, study the movement they are already in, and then work out how we can respectfully harness the power and energy of the existing movement while ensuring we are giving something back.

For example, I imagine Friends of the Earth is aware that it is not at the centre of the environmental movement. The charity is successful because it recognises that there is a wider alliance of organisations (other NGOs, governments, legislators and companies), all working together to fulfil on the shared objective of saving the planet.

Values. Not products

To build an engaged, committed crowd of like-minded individuals at scale, we need to move beyond supporter recruitment and start attracting support by promoting our values instead of focusing purely on fundraising products.

Engagement and community building rather than broadcast advertising

Advertising isn’t dead, but it’s starting to lose its relevance with the public. It feels as if the areas we should be exploring are around how we can build measurable engagement and a sense of community around a problem, or create campaigns based on shared values.

Moving on from two stage and hand raising

We need to inspire people through our values, harness the power and energy of the existing movement, and give those who join us a range of useful and valuable things to do. Otherwise we aren’t being authentic and all we’re doing is recruiting prospects for conversion to our products.

If we are honest with ourselves, we know that if we continue with the status quo, or all we do is tweak our existing approach, it is highly unlikely we will be able to meet our organisation’s goals and deliver the change in the world we are here to create.

We all know we need to transform our fundraising model. The key question is how.

The charities that keep up with human behaviour, successfully innovate their methods of engaging the public at scale, put their values front and centre, and offer the very best experience are the ones that will succeed over the next 15 years.

Find out more from Paul at

Focus on understanding

It’s vital we understand the markets we’re operating in and who our competitors are if we’re to employ innovation effectively. It’s easy to waste time, money and good will if you spend it on fundraising events, campaigns and products without doing the research first.

Any fundraiser worth their weight in contactless payment devices will be data driven. Get yourself a good database, a good data policy, a good user journey and start learning. It’s the best way to get more people to start giving.

Section 10

It’s so shiny!

The role of digital and tech in innovation

FACT: Technology and digital are not the same thing.

FACT: Innovation and technology are not the same thing.

FACT: Innovation and digital are not the same thing.

Innovation involves all of us, so stop looking at the IT and digital teams to do all the work. But in many cases, innovation wouldn’t be possible without technical advancements, and can be a bigger driver than market insight.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” as Henry Ford never said.

There is a clear link between tech and innovation, but it’s a more complicated relationship than simply spending a team meeting discussing how you can use Alexa.

As David Nichols, guest writer for, points out, to innovate, you should be looking at market trends, evolving consumer and beneficiary needs, and new business models as well as the technology that is evolving to allow innovation to happen.

Innovation starts with good, solid business practice:

  1. Know your audience
  2. Know your market
  3. Know your product
  4. Plan, plan, plan

Rob Leyland, innovation manager at Cancer Research UK, discusses the place of technology within an organisation’s innovation development.

Rob Leyland

Rob Leyland

Innovation manager at Cancer Research UK

Innovating with technology

Working in a specialist innovation unit within Cancer Research UK’s technology department, my day-to-day consists of finding valuable uses of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain and augmented reality for the charity.

But the high tech of this end goal doesn’t change the fundamental approaches that we’d apply to testing any other innovation. And it might come as a surprise coming from a technologist that this is to generally avoid building technology to test ideas as much as possible.

I’d like to share a couple of the most important principles I’ve found when it comes to working on technology ideas in an innovation context.

Any tech idea shouldn’t need tech to test (for a while!)

It can be easy to forget in the age of the ‘tech startup’ that a good idea needn’t be synonymous with technology, and easy to feel like without a decent tech capability your options to innovate will be extremely limited.

But take a quick look at the top 10 in 2018’s Start Up 100 and you’ll see 8 out of the 10 could feasibly offer what they do using a team of people and a phone line only. Do they have websites? Yes, of course, and most of them have an app too but technology isn’t the defining feature of how these disruptive organisations are innovating they’re changing business models, they’re building new physical products and delivering new services. Tech provides a glossy and cost-effective overcoat to do this.

And this is great news because it means that most of the time we don’t need tech expertise to build out ideas, grow usership on a small scale, and evidence value of innovations where tech will play a supporting role in the end vision. And equally important, we don’t need to build expensive technology to prove that a tech-based idea’s a non-starter. The important thing is not to feel closed off from testing an idea because it would need a £50,000 app to roll out nationwide, as chances are it doesn’t need that for a good while yet.

For those familiar with lean practices that seek to maximise learning from minimum effort (Lean Startup and The Real Startup Book come highly recommended as further reading in this space), this isn’t a new concept.

A starting point can be as simple as taking a pen and paper sketch of a website landing page for a new idea around the office to get people’s thoughts, or asking members of the public for feedback in an accessible space.

At most charities, it’s probably fair to say tech specialist employees won’t be the majority of staff, so using this methodology and mindset can be a game changer in bringing colleagues on board with innovation – whether that is a number of employees you could count on one hand, or in the thousands.

Tech specialist employees won’t be the majority of staff, so using this methodology and mindset can be a game changer.

Using existing technology can speed up an innovation cycle

While you might not need to build tech straight away to test an idea, it’s definitely an advantage to use the opportunity that existing technology presents to speed up your innovation processes. An owned website or a mailing list is an invaluable resource for experimentation and gathering feedback with speed and accuracy. The key to unlocking this is spotting the opportunities available and making sure that content management, web analytics and testing tools are accessible for anyone who wants to test out their ideas (and, importantly, some guidance to do this responsibly).

Case study

As an example, at Cancer Research UK we had a question about how effective voice-enabled devices might be to keep our donors updated about the research that their donations were funding. Would they have a voice-enabled device to listen on? Would they be interested in getting updates from us on it? Would they be confident in adding apps to a voice device? In the past, it would have been potentially tricky to answer these unknowns and assumptions maybe you’d have to take a leap of faith and design a marketing campaign and functioning product to test the waters, or survey intent.

But using technology channels we could test the idea that day. We already had a basic news app available for Amazon Alexa (which helped!), but even if we didn’t a ‘register interest’ button could have sufficed. By setting up an A/B test on our online donation confirmation webpage with a promotion and link, we could immediately see how many people were interested and what effect the promotion had on other elements of the page. As it happened, less than 1% of the page traffic took up the offer to get our voice skill so we knew that, for the moment at least, it was pretty much a non-starter.

This ability to get a realistic view quickly is important to speeding up innovation the lower the effort and risk of testing ideas, the more willingness there can be at all levels of seniority to just give something a go and the more you can test it in the real market, the more accurate the feedback.Of course, responsibility in using these channels for experimentation is also important. Too many idea tests on an established platform can diminish the online experience and careful wording is needed in promoting products or services that don’t fully exist yet. But the opportunity to build minimal or manually-delivered experiences and promote them online with minimal investment is invaluable in a charity innovation context, where often the financial or effort cost to test out an idea can be a limiting factor.

Mindset and utilising tech are a starting point

Adjusting the mindset to technology and broadening access, skills and willingness to use existing tech platforms as an insight resource are valuable steps to getting a healthy flow of innovation going in an organisation and people interacting with technology in an effective way. This focuses whatever specialist tech build resources are available on the most well evidenced innovation ideas and creates an innovation culture across the organisation.

Are people given the freedom to try new ideas, and set goals to do so? Do they get rewarded for testing out and failing ideas fast rather than persisting to an output regardless? Are they given permission to drop their day jobs if they do find a winning idea to scale? Answering these questions might well involve a shift in approaches to performance assessment, leadership and even finance structuring. In short, tech isn’t the be all and end all of driving innovation, but working smart with it can definitely help.

You can learn more about the work of Cancer Research UK at

Tech can benefit every part of innovation

It’s understandable that when you think of the application of technology, your mind jumps to the end point. The smartphone in the user’s hand. Assistive tech for disabled people. A shiny new app or smart speaker. But it’s important to use technology through the entire process of innovation.

How can you use the technology you have in place to understand more about your audiences? How can you reach them in a way that adds to their positive experience of the brand and deepens the relationship while finding out new insights? End of session surveys, Facebook polls, and analysis of and response to social media commentary are not new. But they are simple and inexpensive ways to increase what you know.

Research and testing

Everyone loves a focus group, or being stopped in the street by a smiling, clipboard wielding stranger to ask what you think about cheese. But large, quantitative online polling is getting cheaper as more platforms are set up and the democratisation of the tech is expanded. WhatsApp focus groups are being used for testing feedback, meaning a group can interact and respond in real time to stimulus you’ve just shared without the expense of hiring a room, travel reimbursements and a ton of snacks.

A combination of thinking innovatively and understanding the potential of the tech that’s already out there (and often freely available) can put insight and understanding within the reach of charities like never before.

Si Muddell, digital engagement strategy director at Scope, discusses the relationship between innovation, digital and technology, and how to bring the three together for the win.

Si Muddell

Si Muddell

Digital engagement strategy director at Scope

No different from the commercial sector, charities’ marketing budgets continue to move away from the generally more expensive above the line channels to low-cost, and often free, digital marketing channels. Performance measurement, cost, targeting, and the ability to quickly follow a ‘test, learn, evaluate, repeat’ approach is attractive to get the best bang for your buck.

It’s no secret that the sector as a whole overly relies on face-to-face fundraising to drive donor income. The sector needs to think differently (and quickly) about how it can diversify and generate other sources of sustainable income.

In addition to the above, Scope has recently (and boldly) divested its services to  significantly increase its reach and effectiveness in achieving everyday equality for disabled people. Digital services, such as Scopes’ online community and the Virgin Media sponsored Support to Work scheme, are at the heart of Scopes’ proposition of reaching, helping and supporting more disabled people. To increase awareness and recruit new audiences to these services effective digital marketing is crucial.

My team at Scope consists of three core sub teams:

  1. Digital marketing, digital marketing measurement and conversion rate optimisation
  2. Mindful Monsters programme
  3. Innovation and new product development

Would you consider Scope an innovative organisation?

Absolutely. At Scope’s core is an appetite to think differently, to be pioneering, challenging and bold. This was evidenced in the recent divestment as mentioned above, and it can also be seen in our new office space that has been co-created with disabled people to be fully accessible. In my world, Scope has invested in Mindful Monsters and income diversification, which shows the appetite to be innovative. The most exciting aspect is there is still an immense amount of opportunity at Scope to educate staff about innovation techniques and tools. Ultimately, this will help us move even closer to our vision of everyday equality for disabled people.

What does innovation mean to you?

Innovation is a funny word isn’t it? For some, I think it’s almost the apparently esoteric and hip silver bullet that will solve all the problems of an organisation, if only it was understood. For others it means a ton of fancy sounding buzzwords, risk, ambiguity, resource drain, cost, and continued failure, and therefore, like an emu, never really gets off the ground!

I recently ran a workshop at Scope with 65 members of the marketing, fundraising, and communications department, ultimately to ask them this very question. The word cloud is a consolidation of what came back. To be able to drive and lead innovation, we need to understand the perceptions people have about it, what challenges they face in doing these things and where our team think the opportunities are. After all, they are experts in their own fields and my team’s role is to enable these new ideas to blossom.

For me, innovation is all of the elements in the above and a bit more. It means striving for improvement, big and small; it means identifying a real problem, it means listening and working with the audience to ideate and develop possible solutions, it means continually testing ideas failing, learning, failing, improving (or not, so moving on). It means using insight to improve something that already exists or to develop something completely from scratch. It means regularly talking to and collaborating with lots of people.

Problem solving isn’t synonymous with innovation; it’s a basic principle underpinning any commercial decision. If you pitch a commercial idea to an investor, the first thing they’ll ask is “what problem does it solve?”. If you can’t answer this basic question then you need to rethink.

I think innovation is something that can’t and shouldn’t be owned we can and should all ‘innovate’ in our roles but it is something that can and should be championed within an organisation. This became apparent when asking people throughout the organisation why they weren’t doing a lot of the things that they answered innovation was. The common responses were “time”, “expertise” and “budget”.

The phrase “you can’t bake your cake and eat it at the same time” comes to mind when I think about how some organisations (both charities and commercial companies) approach innovation. We want the possible upside that good innovation can bring but are often unwilling to embrace and accept that failure is a major possibility and is a healthy part of the journey to creating a sustainable viable product. On this note, if you haven’t read Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed, then I highly recommend it.

“You can’t bake your cake and eat it at the same time.”

You focus on digital strategy, but do you think digital and technology are prerequisites for innovation? How do you see the relationship between what digital can do and what innovation can do?

Absolutely, in the last 10 years innovation has been largely driven by digital both in a technological perspective and a marketing perspective. Developing products is substantially easier, quicker, and less expensive to do. There are so many tools for creating prototypes. Likewise, reaching audiences for feedback and smoke testing potential products is becoming amazingly simple and cost effective. Plus, everything we do digitally can be tracked giving us data insights to feed into product development.

That said, innovation isn’t just about digital. It can exist without digital or at least supported by digital there are some great examples out there of this happening across the advertising world and the charity sector. Think Poppies in the Moat by the Royal British Legion. I mean what a fantastically creative and innovative campaign.

For you, what are the main wins from using innovation to shape what you deliver at Scope? Does it get you closer to the user? Does it increase engagement? Does it make you more efficient?

For Scope, using innovation to drive supporter income is a relatively new thing. My diversification team is five months young and has been spending a lot of time understanding the situation and talking to our audiences.

We have looked back through past insights and ideas with a view to identifying potential opportunities. Work to date can be split into two key areas:

  1. Diversifying Mindful Monsters we created a chatbot and surveys to gain product feedback from customers, undertook numerous focus groups and phone conversations, prototyped 16 lesson plans in a school with a post session focus group, created a number of hackathons to help with product ideation and development, and prototyped a number of new products that are currently in the create and experiment stage.

2. Created the DICE innovation process – all of this work has moved us closer to the end user, after all the audience must be at the heart of our solutions, particularly when it comes to Mindful Monsters. Their contextual feedback has been invaluable to the point where initial hypothesis about certain products have been completely turned on their head once in the experiment phase of DICE. While we want to succeed, we also welcome failure along the way, as failure is the only way we will ultimately learn and succeed.

Likewise, internally, we are now working on a number of potential products for other teams, and are linking up with other innovators across the organisation to ensure all groups aren’t reinventing the wheel and that we remain as streamlined and effective as possible. Regular internal knowledge sharing and education is an essential part of our strategy and we have found it brings stakeholders closer together to benefit from one another’s expertise.

Welcome failure along the way, as failure is the only way we will ultimately learn and succeed.

We’ve seen a massive explosion of what looks like disruptive innovation over the last decade with brands like Uber, Deliveroo, AirBnB and Amazon revolutionising markets and categories through their use of tech. What can charities learn from these relatively new dominant forces?

I think we can learn a lot and the interesting thing is even these leaders don’t have perfect product offerings.

All of these products focused on improving a customer need, fixing a problem, not settling for the traditional norm. All of them depend on peer reviews and creating a positive and frictionless user experience. All of them started with an initial investment where success wasn’t guaranteed but they were bold enough to challenge the status quo. And every single one of them has data insight at the heart of their strategies to drive continued development, improvement and product diversification. That is true innovation and product development. I mean take Amazon and its product roadmap from launch to now, and also Uber for that matter. Amazon has gone from a small online bookstore to a global technology company worth $177 billion focusing on ecommerce, cloud computing, video streaming and publishing, and whole foods, to name a few. They constantly reinvent and diversify their product offering, always and famously putting customers at the forefront. At a much lower scale, many lessons can be learnt from its business model and approach to business in general. Yet, it still isn’t perfect!

What do you think are the main benefits to be won by working innovatively, especially within digital?

Personally, I don’t think this is necessarily about people working innovatively or not. I would say you have people who have fixed mindsets and people who have growth mindsets. People who have growth mindsets are solution focused, problem solvers, and driven to continuously make things better, to develop themselves and to think differently. I think working innovatively is a by-product of a growth mindset. Sure, there are tools and techniques taken from the innovation toolkit that can help but ultimately, if someone has a fixed mindset, I don’t think they can truly be innovative.

So the benefit of working innovatively is a continued and relentless drive to make things better. This drive is entrenched in audience insight and the patience of testing, learning, adapting, and actually failing.

Where do you look for innovation inspiration?

I read a lot! I always have. I write an innovation and tech blog, and when I started this it was to ensure I went out and wrote about the things that inspired me. Now I have a four-month old child and a three year old, I seem to have less time to do it!

I love TED Talks, particularly the TED Radio Hour. I am a big fan of entrepreneurs, innovation leaders, and life coaches such as Tim Ferriss (4 hr working week man), and Tony Robbins. I use BlinkList to be able to read books quickly to get the main points from them. If I like what I read I then read the whole book either in hard copy or using Audible. 

I use the Feedly service to create a tailored newsfeed of all the things that interest me, innovation being one of them. This allows me to capture blogs and articles based on related keywords. It keeps my finger on the pulse so to speak.

I love mixing with like-minded friends, family and colleagues some of whom have their own companies. There is always a ton of stuff I can learn from them.

I try and put myself out of my comfort zone by doing new things. I am not afraid (mostly!) of failure and like trying new ideation techniques in workshops.

And lastly, I look to my children. The innocence and creativity that fills a child’s mind amazes and inspires me. They are often not confronted with the “this isn’t going to work” way of thinking that can often cloud our own minds. They just get on with it. There’s something very inspiring about this and it takes you back to your own youth. Play should be (and often is) a big part of innovation.

There are a ton of books and other podcasts I’d also recommend. Get in touch with me via LinkedIn and I’d be happy to share. If you haven’t read Hooked or Black Box Thinking, then these would be my first shares.

Find out more about Scope’s work at

Technology can create undreamt of opportunities. It can enable you to reach people on an unprecedented scale and in real time. You can learn more about your market, your competitors, your supporters and beneficiaries, and learn it quicker. You can test new ideas and provide precision and personalised services at a fraction of the cost, immediately understand the impact they have and respond almost as quickly. There’s a ‘but’ coming.

But technology and digital are most likely the enablers of ideas, rather than the creators of ideas. Sure, you can spend millions on a new robotic arm and then call a meeting to see what you should do with it, but that might not be the best use of resources. Think first, buy later.

Section 11

We can all fly.

Innovation, leadership and culture

Innovation is important at all levels if an organisation is going to optimise the rewards of acting and thinking differently. Sure, tools, templates and processes are required to roll out and plan, but you need a leadership and culture that is willing to get on board with innovation. 

Micah Solomon, customer service consultant, writing for Forbes opines successful leaders drive innovation via their people. This is where innovation, leadership and culture come together. It’s increasingly rare for innovation to be a single point in time, Eureka! moment. Progressive organisations understand everyone can and should be supported to work innovatively.

Hannah Bellamy, UK MD of charity: water, shares her experience of working within and helping to create a culture of innovation.

There isn’t yet a templated solution on how to create an innovation culture; instead, it is dependent on the unique attributes of your brand. But there are things you can do to push your organisation forwards. Let’s take a look at some:

Technology, knowledge and creativity cornerstones of innovation

McKinsey author, Dr. Waguih Ishak focuses on three principles that lie at the heart of an innovation culture: 1) embracing new tech, 2) a thirst for knowledge, and 3) giving room for creativity.

But that’s only part of the story. These concepts have to be given a framework to operate within, to ensure they are effectively applied. Dr. Ishak calls this “innovation parenting”: ultimately innovation has to be applied purely to support delivery of the organisational strategy and within the practical boundaries.

In other words, there’s no point in bankrupting yourself spending all your income on a new fundraising product to the detriment of everything else. If it’s clear from the outset how the objectives of the innovation work are accountable for delivering practical and affordable products and processes, then you can increase the flexibility around budgets and deadlines.

Come together

The parenting analogy applies across another important aspect of innovation socialisation. People’s ideas flow better together, not only because we build on each other’s insight, but also because there are not that many original problems. Chances are if you talk to enough people, they’ll be able to shoot your understanding forwards a lot faster and more efficiently, and stop you from doing a bunch of work they’ve already done.

Collaboration is a key component of successful innovation. We all have our own way of interpreting our unique experiences. Bringing these to the table mean the ideas we share can be built on and developed in a far more interesting and rich way than even the most genius individual could hope to achieve. 

Back in the 1950s science fiction writer Isaac Asimov told the US government it needed to promote a “group think” mentality to give individuals the space, time and connections to form new ideas, processes and applications.

“But how to persuade creative people to do so? First and foremost, there must be ease, relaxation, and a general sense of permissiveness. The world in general disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome. The individuals must, therefore, have the feeling that the others won’t object.”

Isaac Asimov

What can we learn from this? If you (or your senior team) are nervous about implementing a culture of innovation, take comfort from the fact that sitting around trying to think of a new way to do it isn’t a recent concept. You just can’t light up a cigarette in the meeting room anymore.

Shoot for the moon

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy set out his vision to “go to the moon in this decade”. At the time the USSR was well ahead in the space race, but shooting for the moon allowed a nation to play their part in bringing an audacious, exciting and compelling idea to life. It was wildly ambitious, but it was ultimately achievable,

And that’s the sweet spot.

Innovation and ambition go naturally together. Motivation can be created by expectation, and if you push in the right way, you can get more than you thought possible.

What can we learn from this? We can apply the innovation principle that it’s OK to fail as long as we learn when setting objectives that we all know we might never reach but are inherently more compelling and engaging.

Vicky Browning, CEO at ACEVO, shares her experiences of leading a culture of innovation.

Vicky Browning

Vicky Browning


It’s no secret that to remain both relevant and sustainable, organisations must be willing to try new things.

As Albert Einstein said: “We cannot solve our problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

But in a world that’s most often focused on short-term results and obvious returns on investment, it’s hard to create a culture open to new ideas, willing to accept the associated risk that innovation brings.

That’s where leadership counts. Innovative environments in organisations are those where people are allowed to learn from mistakes, grow, develop and improve. 

How you deal with failure matters

Experimentation can lead to failure, but it can also lead to successes. So leaders need to make sure the innovation and experimentation process is valued as much as the specific outcome.

Failure itself is not what leads to innovation: it’s how you deal with failure that matters.

We do have to be careful about what we mean by failure, of course. Failure through incompetence or apathy, failure as falling short of your goals and commitments, or saying you’re going to do something and not doing it, is not a good thing.

What leaders need to encourage is a willingness to experiment and take risks, and an understanding and acceptance that experiments don’t always turn out the way you think they will.

Innovative leaders take failure seriously: they pay attention when things go wrong. By being open and honest about failure   and by encouraging people to think about what could be done differently another time   positive risk taking becomes part of the vocabulary of an organisation.

Pace, scale and authenticity

Innovative leaders know that good ideas don’t always come to fruition quickly. When it comes to innovation, fast is not necessarily best. When Movember launched in 2003, only 30 people took part. However, in the past 15 years it’s raised around £450m for men’s health. Some ideas need time and space to develop and reach their potential.

And as well as being aware of pace, there are two other crucial things to remember about encouraging innovation   scale and authenticity.

Scale: Innovation doesn’t have to be massive. Incremental changes in processes or rethinking why we do things the way we do and seeing if we can do them differently can reap huge rewards. One famous example of this is the Team GB Olympic cycling team:  a series of incremental improvements across everything that goes into competing on a bike, cumulatively led to a significant increase in performance and a heap of gold medals.

This ties innovation in to a focus on what you’re trying to deliver. For Team GB, for instance, the mantra was: “Does this make the bike go faster?” For charities, it will be: “Does this help us deliver our purpose?”

Authenticity: True innovation often comes from deep audience insight and understanding. For example, Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life was built on an understanding that women affected by cancer don’t want to feel like victims.

The role of leadership in developing a culture of innovation

Facilitating and encouraging an innovative and vibrant culture is a key aspect of strong leadership culture cannot thrive unless it is enabled, embodied and modelled at the top of the organisation.

According to Henry Stewart, author of The Happy Manifesto:

“Most organisations call for people to come up with new ideas, new products, new ways of doing things. But they keep in place a structure that gets in the way of these ideas taking shape and, too often, gives people a clear message that it isn’t worth trying.”

Leaders need to make sure they create the mechanisms for innovation.

Innovation can be enabled with financial and logistical support as well as, crucially, by giving people the time to innovate and take risks.

What does this mean in practice for leaders?

Leaders need to take the following steps:

  1. Engage with the work that is going on in their organisation. They need to be curious and take an interest in their employees’ projects, express support and ask relevant questions. They should try to be collaborative rather than controlling. Listening is more important than talking.
  2. Facilitate new ways of collaborating, new spaces to meet in, new methods to reward people (for trying as well as succeeding), and new combinations of people working together.
  3. Embrace digital channels to allow a sharing culture to develop.
  4. Understand and allow for the fact that innovative thinking is hard to do alongside business as usual   most of us are so wrapped up with what has to be done now it’s hard to step back and think how things could be done better or differently. If you want innovation, you need to allow people the headspace to come up with it.
  5. Actively demonstrate that they are tolerant of the right kind of failure   failure through trying rather than failure through not delivering. They must send a clear message to their organisation that constructive mistakes can be valuable if they are used as opportunities to grow and learn. Creating a culture that allows for innovation makes staff more likely to explore, no longer thinking just about success or failure, but also about quality and experience.
  6. And finally, when leaders open a loop through encouraging new ideas and enabling colleagues to share them, they must make sure they close it by showing what happens next and what impact that has on the organisation and the cause.

ACEVO inspires and supports civil society leaders by providing connections, advocacy and skills to enable them to make the biggest possible difference. Find out more at

Ambition first

When Canon first started out its goal was to beat Xerox, which at the time was the undisputed market leader. There was no way a startup would gain control. But because of a near-impossible goal, it meant strategies, tactics and processes were put in place to get Canon into a position far in advance of where they would have been if the goal was to “come second to Xerox”.

What can we learn from this? At the heart of this is a recognition of the importance of matching resource and process to ambition, rather than the other way round. Harvard Business Review writer, Vijay Govindarajan states that performance is a function of expectation. We’re more inspired to climb mountains than we are to walk up molehills, and even if we don’t reach the summit, we’ve got a lot higher than we ever considered.

“We’re more inspired to climb mountains than we are to walk up molehills, and even if we don’t reach the summit, we’ve got a lot higher than we ever considered.”

Too much ideation

A culture of innovation can lead to a lot of new ideas. And unchecked, these ideas can begin to take on a life of their own, diverting time and resources from other, more effective activities.

Organisations usually worry they won’t be able to generate enough new, good ideas to get or maintain a competitive advantage. In reality, across the sector, the opposite is usually the case.

The passion and energy inherent in charities can create lots of new opportunities, but each idea needs to be thoroughly investigated before resource is committed.

A good idea isn’t inherently innovative. If it’s to help your organisation, an idea has to become something more. It has to be researched, developed, tested, produced, reflected on, measured and turned into business as usual. All of this takes up time and resource. A healthy dose of cost/benefit analysis needs to be applied.

As an individual, team or leader, think about how much you’re taking on and what can realistically be delivered with what you’ve got. Again, like any good parenting technique, it’s vital that innovation is given clear boundaries.

Be open

We live in the era of open source and constant networks. From the established social platforms like Linkedin and Instagram to the growing freelance gig economy to the unstoppable mass of content that used to be called the internet, we have more ways to connect and more stuff to connect with.

It’s impossible not to learn or find inspiration from a billion different people and a trillion different places within seconds. A culture of innovation can learn and teach in equal measures by sharing ideas with and getting feedback from a global lab willing to contribute.

Fenella Humphreys, former fundraising innovation manager and now philanthropy manager at Greenpeace New Zealand, shares her tips for promoting a culture of innovation openness.

Fenella Humphreys

Fenella Humphreys

Former fundraising innovation manager and now philanthropy manager at Greenpeace New Zealand

  1. Build your network of people doing a similar role – connect with people on LinkedIn, speak to any agencies you use or contact charity bloggers you follow.

  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and share ideas.

  3. Keep aware of new ideas through blogs, networking events and conferences or simply by talking to other fundraisers to see what they are working on – most people are very happy to share.

  4. Find out who else is responsible for innovation in your organisation as part of their role. Then work together to build templates and guidelines about running innovation projects in your organisation to build a consistent approach

Ambition, collaboration, openness, boundaries, balancing risk. These are just some of the areas to review if you’re to develop a culture that supports innovation. Every organisation will have and need a different culture to make innovation prosper. It’s worth taking the time to go through the things that impact and create your culture and score them to see where you can make the greatest gains. 

Section 12

Be Crystal Amazing.

The innovative team

You don’t need each team member to have a degree in innovation or design thinking to get colleagues thinking and behaving in a way that creates a more innovative workplace.

Approaching problems from a different starting point, allowing people time to actually think, using insight and keeping the end user in mind are all great principles to embed. Having a supportive leader who can help develop a culture of innovation gets you even closer to the sweet spot.

But what else can have an impact on the team and make sure they’re being supported to embrace innovation?

Greg Satell, author of Mapping Innovation: A Playbook for Navigating a Disruptive Age, writing for HBR, gives us some key points to consider if you’re looking to up the innovation in your team.

How to build an innovative team

1. Make sure the people fit the purpose

A prerequisite is making sure your team members enjoy solving the problems that align with their role and your organisational purpose. You could have the best designer in the world, but if their heart is set on being an architect and they’re designing fundraising calendars, you might not get the best from them.

2. Make sure people feel safe and supported

When team members feel free to contribute new ideas and speak out about what’s happening, they are likely to be more creative, efficient and keen to learn. A practical application of this? When people within a team contribute roughly the same to a team’s performance, these teams outperform others that are dominated by one or two personalities (including the leader). Make sure you monitor who’s saying and doing what and provide different opportunities for members to get involved. Remember, not everyone likes speaking up in a team meeting.

3. Hire different

Diversity within a team can lead to more perspectives and experiences at the table than a homogenous unit based on the hiring manager’s own ego fulfilment. Managing director of General Catalyst, Hemant Taneja, writing for HBR, says McKinsey research shows that diverse teams outperform in performance, talent acquisition, customer orientation and employee satisfaction. Sure, it’s nice for camaraderie and cohesion when the whole team can discuss their favourite mountain bike trails, post-punk band or the same village pub where they grew up but it narrows ideas and can even create a mini-echo chamber. How come no one else in your organisation is buying into your latest product idea? Because they’re not part of your hive mind.

4. Teamwork makes the dream work

When looking to solve today’s intensely complicated problems, you need more than a single maverick genius who locks themselves away until they’ve created Flubber. As Satell states: “The best people are knowledge brokers. They listen, they collaborate, they network and they don’t crave splendid isolation.”

“The best people are knowledge brokers. They listen, they collaborate, they network and they don’t crave splendid isolation.”

The innovation environment

You don’t need bean bags, air hockey tables and an office Pug to increase innovation. A lot of the elements that help teams think, act and perform differently can be badged as good management and leadership but are often overlooked. If you’re managing a team, or want to discuss working differently with your manager, here are some questions you can ask to get the conversation going.

1. What are our goals?

Being able to clarify and articulate the team’s place within the vision and mission of your organisation, and how you all contribute to the organisational strategy, can be great for focus, motivation and creativity. This then flows down into operational objectives and personal development so you can clearly see a thread all the way from each person back to the overall aims of the organisation.

2. What impact are we having?

Measuring your work shouldn’t be an option. Even though the private sector has been doing this since the beginning of time, the idea of measuring impact is relatively new within charities. There are hundreds of ways to measure performance, both of your team and the things they produce, so work with your HR and leadership teams to find meaningful things to measure. And remember, only measure what you can change.

3. What’s in it for me?

You don’t need to address the question so bluntly, but understanding the reward for the effort you put in is crucial to motivation and creativity. It’s well understood that financial return is less important than feeling listened to, the opportunity to develop professionally, and a healthy balance of positive pressure and time to do what’s needed

4. You want it when?

Look at any employee survey from across the sector and one of the main issues people bring up is being too busy. Be it out of touch management, too many meetings, an unfocused planning process or an over-eager chief exec. To get peak performance from a team, they need time to develop, discuss, reflect and iterate. Thinking time shouldn’t be limited to people with “Creative”, “Strategy” or “Director” in their title. Nobody wants to feel like they’re on a treadmill unless they’re in a gym.

5. Can we try something different?

There are plenty of techniques to mix it up. Hot desking, day trips, creative sessions, social events, matrix management, show and tell presentations. Ask facilities if you can change the space around. Work with internal comms to increase collaboration between teams. Get the CEO to attend a team meeting. Start a panel of service users. Include someone from finance in your project team. Get a team Deliveroo and have a creative lunch. Start a work-related book or video club. Make the next team meeting a walk around the park. Visit your research department. Interview the helpline staff. You get the idea.    

Scope’s digital engagement strategy director, Si Muddell, talks us through the steps needed to build an environment where innovation can flourish.

Si Muddell

Si Muddell

Digital engagement strategy director at Scope

I think it’s important that innovation is not owned. We don’t own it at Scope, it should be something everyone embraces and uses. This is very much the philosophy of my team.

The steps to creating an environment that encourages innovation are:

  1. Allow and encourage the team to constantly feel safe and comfortable to try new things, like a new ideation technique in a team meeting.
  2. Do not fear failure. Yes, we strive for results and are very much results driven but failure in part is inevitable. It’s how we deal with failure that will yield the results we want.
  3. Do not be afraid to challenge others. Debate is a positive thing and it shouldn’t ever become personal or emotional. We all have different experiences and knowledge which gives us different opinions and perspectives. This is a huge positive that should be embraced, not dampened.
  4. Do not be siloed. Work across the organisation and regularly share what you are doing and how you may be able to help others
  5. Strive to be accessible and inclusive with everything you do; always. Be accessible with your own thoughts, ideas as this drives honest, open, and constructive conversations. Inclusive design and co-creation enables the opportunity to get a diverse set of users that can help unearth problems you hadn’t considered and develop ideas you hadn’t dreamt of ultimately, this will make your solution better.
  6. We hot desk at Scope which enables us to chat with new people daily. We also have a short daily team stand-up along with a formal fortnightly team meeting.
  7. Encourage personal development and networking.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to building the perfect, innovative team. It depends on the organisation’s strategy, purpose, culture, leadership and ambition.

As innovation becomes mainstream, work practices are starting to focus on flexibility, openness, collaboration, personal development and failure. This reflects what innovation experts have known and practiced for decades. Well, someone’s got to be ahead of the curve.

Section 13

What are we learning?

Not a conclusion

So here we are, having dipped a toe or two into innovation. What a journey. And that was only in one direction. Imagine if we went to a different destination. Or used different transportation. Or invited different passengers. Or asked someone where we should stop on the way. 

If you’re going to take away anything, take away the following:

Innovation is for everyone

Innovation is about thinking and behaving differently to get better results

Innovation needs a supportive leadership and culture

Innovation thrives when people share ideas and findings

Innovation loves to test, test and test some more

Innovation can’t exist without taking risks and accepting failure as part of the journey

Innovation doesn’t always need technology, structural change or big budgets

Innovation helps you reach your goals more quickly, and maybe more cheaply

Innovation can open you up to new goals you’ve never even considered

So, what’s next..? Well, that’s up to us.

Let’s go.


Innovation links, tools, templates and resources

There’s no such thing as a new idea. Well, maybe there is, but that’s your job to work out. We’ve collected some of the best innovation tools from around the world to help you get started.

Remember that innovation and the internet keep changing, so keep searching for new tools and tips constantly and share, share share.

Innovation resources

Business design agency Board of Innovation has tons of practical innovation guides, tools and processes that are ready to use and get straight to the point.

The literal dons of design thinking, lecturers at Stanford Design School have curated a collection of resources from their classes and workshops for you to explore. Use these activities, tools and how-to guides as a starting point — they want you to hack them for whatever challenge you’re working on.

Outrageous Innovation is a digital first market research agency and has come up with a guide to building an innovative charity.

Change and transformation agency, Implement Consulting has released a booklet to make innovation processes more successful and enjoyable.

The founder of design thinking for business, David Kelley and his agency IDEO have resources on design thinking, brainstorming and more.

Lateral thinking guru Edward deBono has produced a framework for approaching problems. A more comprehensive introduction is available on the iqmartix blog.

Innovation foundation NESTA has released a toolkit on how to invent, adopt or adapt ideas that can deliver better results. It also has lots more resources that are free to use.

Although it’s aimed more at business and industry, the Government’s innovation hub has a decent blog and some useful content.

Mozilla has created a community sourced set of best practices and principles to help you incorporate human-centred design into your product development process.

This 30-piece toolkit from innovation agency 100%open covers the whole open innovation journey from setting a strategy for collaboration to implementing mutually beneficial business models.

A great selection of innovation top 10s to get you started in your quest, from top 10 innovations for women and top 10 social innovations, to top 10 innovation bloggers. Check out the rest of their thought leadership area for more inspiration

If you can get through the business jargon, there’s some relevant content for innovation, leadership and strategy within PWC’s report.


TED is innovation. If only we had enough time to watch all of TED, the world would be a better place. Failing that, check out some of the following: 

Everything you thought … was wrong

The most actionable TED Talks


Tech innovation company gives a short and snappy overview of some of the more common innovation methodologies out there.

Innovation training company has gathered together some of the best current innovation podcasts to inspire you on your commute

Not only is he a brilliant fell runner, he knows a thing or two about digital marketing. In fact he’s in the top 50 digital marketing gurus worldwide. Dave Chaffey also loves to give stuff away, so if you need a template, a dashboard or a process map, head on over.

A blog that unfortunately has such brilliant and useful marketing and innovation content it overshadows what the company actually does. Dive in and download before they put it behind a paywall.

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