Tag Archives: learning

It’s all about you

There is often debate about how much contact charities should be making with donors. In a recent blog by Jeff Brooks he highlights that there is no proof that increased contact leads to donor attrition. He notes that too little contact could be detrimental to your fundraising, but the worst thing of all is being irrelevant.

Charities need to focus on the donor. It’s all about the charity providing the donor with the opportunity to change the world and feel valued in a way that is relevant to them. From the style of the copy, to the key message, to the choice of images, to the channel of communication, it’s all about them.

My question is; can we compare our fundraising communications to other sectors, for example clothes retail, restaurants or mobile phone providers? I think we can.

A couple of weeks ago I was doing some work with the direct mail fundraising team; considering how we make our donors feel special, important and loved. We did some work reflecting on our own experiences and considered what organisations (if any!) had made us feel valued or special lately.

We came up with a good list that included, Eagle Cabs, a dentist, Bupa and Virgin (?). My example was Boden, which I will share with you here.

Johnnie Boden has been writing to me for a few years now. I don’t remember asking him, or when he first embarked on his correspondence with me, but he writes to me a lot. In fact I get more post from Johnnie Boden than anyone else. I have to say his overly friendly chirpy marketing copy does grate on my nerves a bit. However, somewhat ashamedly I admit, I am a Boden customer.

The reason this example was so relevant to the question about communication being all about the donor is that Johnnie Bodens latest autumn catalogue was all about me.  The centre text reads, ‘I owe Lucy everything’  as well as other references to ‘Lucy’. I think this is brilliant. There were even personalised stickers so I could mark what I wanted.

But while I’m on the topic, it’s not just the personalised catalogue that makes Boden stand out. Johnnie Bodens customer service is excellent too. A few months ago I complained about a scarf because all the bobbles fell off it. I emailed customer service and I received a real email back from a real person the same day. They sent me a new scarf and a freepost envelope to return the bobbleless one in. All within a couple of days. Impressive.

So what can fundraisers learn from Johnnie Boden? Here is my list.

  • Personal; great personalization of materials – see the example above
  • Frequent; I must get something monthly at least. It doesn’t put me off. It probably helps me buy more.
  • Offers; I get an incentive with every catalogue. I’m sure every single other customer does too. But I feel special.
  • Customer service; It’s good. Real people answer emails and take action. Refer to the scarf story above.
  • Targeted; Johnnie Boden sends me stuff I’m interested in. He segments his data well. I check in with my other target audience friends and we receive different creative and offers. Sometimes we get a bit jealous of each other’s Boden relationship.  (I acknowledge that could be perceived as sad on our part)
  • New; the catalogues always have some new lines.
  • Topical; The Royal wedding edition catalogue contained make your own cut-out bunting and Royal wedding bingo game. Other catalogues refer to recent events or seasons.

So, whether you are in the market for a brightly coloured rain mac or not; don’t just take my word for it, Test the Boden theory, or another company that makes you feel special. Ask yourself what is it that they do. Then try to recreate that special feeling for your donors.

More from the catalogue below.


Are you an Eater or a Baker? The Art of Enchantment

For me the word ‘enchantment’ conjures up images of scenes straight out of a fairy tale; beautiful princesses, handsome princes, mysterious breadcrumb trails, charmed forests and magic spells.

Guy Kawasakis latest book ‘Enchantment’ explains all the tactics you need to enchant in real life.

‘Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale’ Hans Christian Andersen

Guy defines enchantment as the process of delighting people with a product, service, organisation or idea. Enchantment is also about inspiring action and changing hearts and minds. Guys’ theory is that if we enchant, we will be more successful at ‘getting things done’ and as a result we can make more of a difference.

So to me enchantment sounds like it could be another word for fundraising.

Enchantment is a quick read and a checklist full of practical tips and stories that will help you to become an enchanter; from realising your passions and goals, use of positive language, building rapport, telling stories, tactics to nudge people to choose a preferred solution, overcoming fear and resistance, practicing your genuine smile and a formula for the perfect handshake (yes a formula!).

Key to the philosophy of Enchantment is building relationships and always considering, in any interaction, how you can help others. I love Guy’s analogy that people fall into two camps; you are either an eater or a baker.

  • Eaters want a bigger slice of an existing pie.
  • Bakers want to make a bigger pie.
  • Eaters think that if they win, you lose, and if you win, they lose.
  • Bakers think that everyone can win with a bigger pie.
  • True enchanters are bakers

Twitter, where anyone can provide news and updates and Google making advertising accessible to small businesses are examples of organisations with a bigger pie philosophy.

So team, are you an eater or a baker? I dare you to take some action, get baking, and make your life, and the lives of others more enchanting.

If you like the sound of enchantment you may also like the following;

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard – Chip and Dan

Heath Delivering Happiness – Tony Hsieh

Nudge – Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness Richard H Thaler, Cass R Sunstein

Whoever Tells The Best Story Wins – Annette Simmons

The Book of Awesome – Neil Pasricha

Confessions of a Public Speaker – Scott Berkun


What is innovation anyway?

As mentioned in my blog last week ‘What innovation isn’t” I think innovation is an overused term.

According to Oxford Dictionaries online (does anyone own a dictionary anymore? – there’s innovation for you)

‘Innovation is ‘the action or process of innovating a new idea, method or product’

I don’t think that’s is particularly helpful in explaining innovation so I’ve attempted to put a list together to help make more sense of innovation.

Innovation is

1. A series of previously unconnected connections put together in new ways.

2. Survival. If organisations do not adapt to changing markets and customer needs they will die. Innovation is essential in order to survive.

3. Either incremental, so small changes or efficiencies to a current process or product, for example improving your data capture to ensure that you get donor details right, developing a really great newsletter… the list is endless

4. Or a radical or step change that alters things as they are, for example MP3 players changing the music market, Botton Village giving donors choices or the invention of the world wide web

5. Lead from the top. Leaders must walk the walk for innovation to succeed in a business. It needs to be part of the culture and part of everyone’s job.

6. All about you, your unique experiences and thoughts that create new ideas that are put into action. All humans have the capability to create and innovate. You just got to find your Element.

7. About gathering insight from everywhere you can in order to spot new opportunities to develop products and services. Look outside of what you know for fresh insights.

8. Working in collaboration, sharing, listening, building on each others ideas. (no group hugs)

9. Fun. Forget the pressures of everyday life and chill the hell out. That’s when you will have your best thoughts.

10. About having a go, taking action, driving change and convincing people to give the new idea a try.

11.  Failure. Innovation and failure are best mates. Fact. Their other friend is risk. If you take a risk to try something new, you may fail. The most important part is what you learn in order that you can return and succeed.

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” Sir Ken Robinson 

12. Having attitude and belief that you are going to find a way to succeed no matter what.

13. Focusing on where you will make the most difference. You can’t innovate about absolutely everything so focus on the areas that are going to make the most impact.

14. Being brave. Standing out from the crowd. To trailblaze. To lead the way.

15. About breaking patterns. Humans are creatures of habit, it’s much easier to sit it out in your comfort zone where there is little risk of failure (see point 11). To innovate you need to break your ‘normal’ patterns of thought to develop something new.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein

16. Being curious about the world. Asking why more.

17. A robust process combined with gut feel. Some famous innovations were designed for something entirely different. Viagra was originally developed for high blood pressure with interesting side effects….

18. Exciting. Coming up with new ideas is super exciting. Isn’t it?

19. Lasting success. An innovation strategy should balance incremental changes with longer-term objectives to survive in the long-term.

20. About making a difference. That’s why I do it.

What else is innovation? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Success out of failure

Katherine William-Powlett, NCVO’s dedicated Innovation Officer has been busy over the last few months organising a series of excellent events. Each one has tackled a different facet of innovation and has featured expert speakers, inspired audiences and a wealth of useful resources for budding innovators.

The final session ‘Success out of Failure’ today at London’s National Theatre didn’t disappoint.

Four innovation experts bravely shared some of their failures and inspired us to think more about the value and inevitability of failure if we are serious about innovating to make a difference.

“To develop working ideas efficiently – I try to fail as quickly as I can.”Richard Feynman 1965 Nobel prize winner

David Sabel, Head of Digital Media at the National Theatre (NT) spoke of the need for a culture of risk taking required to launch National Theatre Live; a live filmed  performance screened in cinemas around the world. The ‘test’ as it was called, to manage expectations both of the press and the audience, was a success despite some cynicism about the value of this new theatre medium. The NT were clear on their objectives of the test, which was to increase reach and access and fronted up to  critics by inviting them to one of the cinema screenings. Experiencing NT Live changed their minds and a blogging sceptic transformed into an advocate.

Kevin Waudby Head of Radical Innovation at CRUK shared how a culture of accepting and sharing failure enabled CRUK to learn from a fundraising flop called Give Take Donate.

The Radical Innovation team have a 5 year objective to raise £10 million from new initiatives. Give Take Donate was a website that aimed to convert volunteering time into donations. It failed to bring in the expected income. However, instead of shoving this failure under the carpet, a report on the Give Take Donate project was presented to CRUK’s Chief Executive who congratulated the team on their hard work and ensured that the learning was shared. This learning has influenced development of other online products including My Project – so watch this space.

Nick Adridge CEO at Mission Fish, a company that enables you to give through EBay confessed that their original business model, structure and interface were all wrong. People were resistant to giving their details online and the way the site was set up was a barrier for people to easily participate. The Mission Fish product is now fully integrated with EBay’s core business and raises huge amounts for a range of charitable causes. As Nick says, in this case, to get things fixed you need to fail badly.

Heather Bewers Head of Innovation at KPMG shared her experience of some of the pitfalls of developing an idea suggestion system. At one stage Heather was presented with thousands of ideas that she had no capacity to deal with and presumably many sleepless nights and a lot of people expecting her to deliver their idea. Frustratingly two-thirds of the ideas were for things already implemented, which highlighted a communication need (I share this experience from ideas submitted to an inbox I once set up).

Heather challenged an assumption that many make around offering incentives, that money is not in fact a motivator. Check out this RSA clip from Daniel Pink that tells you why.

Now KPMG ask their clients for a challenge which staff input into. This gets insight from customers as well as keeping the idea generation around a clear business need.

My caveat is that there is a debate around what is most successful; user led or product led innovation. As Henry Ford said

‘If I had asked people what they wanted they would have asked for a better horse.’

But that’s the exciting thing about innovation, if you study great innovations over time, whilst there are some commonalities, there is no blueprint of right or wrong.  Intrinsic to innovation is a degree of serendipity, belief, sheer bloody mindedness and failure.

Innovation is the realm of the brave. You have to accept that failure is part of any innovation process. Here are my top 13 tips to help you take advantage of the fallout of failure.

1. Have clear objectives. Know what you want to achieve, e.g. extending your reach, raising money, developing internal communications…..

2. Be bold and open about your idea

3. Accept that there is a risk, the idea might not work.  Have a contingency plan to deal with failure, e.g. how you deal with the press, internal communication, dealing with your own personal disappointment

4. Prepare to admit failure and cut your losses if its fails.  Don’t let your ego get in the way of admitting it’s not working

5. Minimise risk by balancing robust research and market insight with gut feeling.

6. Be clear on who owns the idea and who is responsible for delivering it.

7. Ensure leadership are visibly on board

8. Your innovation must contribute to your strategy – if it doesn’t stop doing it

9. Manage expectations

10. Don’t incentivise idea generation with money

11. Provide regular stimulus to help people have ideas

12. Be open and learn from mistakes

13. You cannot learn by reading – take action, do whatever you can to make your idea real for people

Interested in failure? Check out these links.

New Coke – It seemed like a good idea at the time

Reckless opportunism versus the dead hand of risk-aversion



Being wrong – or ‘failing’ has to be up there in the top 10 most feared things list with public speaking and spiders.

Kathryn Schulz’s new book Being Wrong describes wrongness as an inescapable part of being alive. We should embrace it but yet people go to such lengths to never be wrong about anything. Being Wrong draws on philosophy and neuroscience to see why fear of wrongness has such a powerful grip, what happens when this conviction is shaken, and how people interpret the moral, political and psychological significance of being wrong. She spoke at the RSA on Monday.

There is a common belief that that right is winning and wrong is losing. Being wrong or ‘failing’ feels horrible and we can go to great lengths to avoid being ‘found out.’ We get attached to theories and even when we have a gut feel that our theory may, just very may, be wrong we ignore anything that disproves it. Paul Sloane describes this phenomenon well in his book How to be a Brilliant Thinker.

We need to break away from our human fear of admitting to being wrong, if Descartes could doubt everything including his own existence, then surely its OK for the likes of you and me to admit we made a mistake.

Usually an admittance of being wrong is immediately followed by a big BUT. We like to explain away our mistakes. On the occasions when you bravely declare “ I am wrong” with no excuse people are shocked. Horrified.

Smart organisations actively reward people for sharing mistakes. Its encouraged. This way mistakes don’t get driven underground. This way mistakes become an important part of learning and improvement.

The fact that we don’t have all the answers is exciting. Being wrong is an essential part of creativity and innovation. We learn from failures and if we combine this learning with our restless search to be right, we have a formula for innovative breakthroughs.

Embrace the wrongness

1. Get committed to being right about wrongness.

2. Be Brave and declare your mistakes.

3. Rejoice in wrongness and then turn a failure into a world-changing breakthrough.

Is it an oxymoron to declare that we have to get better at being wrong?