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Dan Geaves, who will be speaking at the upcoming F&P Fundraising Forum, shares four key characteristics that contribute to creating innovative fundraising ideas.


fundraising innovation Do you remember the day you decided you wanted to work in fundraising? I can. I remember feeling an intense mixture of excitement and sincerity. I committed myself to finding ways to use my background in psychological research, advertising and direct marketing as a platform for discovering how to become a committed fundraiser.

I never imagined, however, I’d be getting my ‘crazy’ on too. I didn’t think I’d help a charity to launch a series of toy animals. But I did. I didn’t think I’d be using a custom-made surfboard to start a relationship with supporters of lifesavers – or lock people in a prison cell to get them to free an illegally detained prisoner.

I didn’t think anyone would listen when I said, “Why don’t we build a massive guide dog?” and “You can collect data by asking people to give it a cute name.” But they did.

I didn’t think someone would ask me, “Will you help us figure out how to create a charity Christmas cracker?” But they did – and so that’s what my team and I did.

The sincerity with which our sector treats the responsibility of fundraisers is to be applauded. However, the way it manifests itself often comprises taking the best of what everyone else is doing and doing that. This behaviour is at odds with the sector’s need for innovative ideas that ‘break through’.

So how do new ideas actually make it out there?

I believe there are four characteristics that align to convince a group of curious fundraisers to boldly go where no-one has before. By observing them in action, you can determine whether you’re creating the conditions for a breakthrough to happen:

1  Good fundraising follows an established paradigm and innovative fundraising is the same

A ‘paradigm’ is a term psychologists use to describe a cognitive framework that embraces the ways of thinking commonly accepted by members of a group. In simpler terms, it is ‘common sense’. But the tricky thing about ‘common sense’ is that not everything deemed to be common sense actually is.

This is best understood by this example: humans have become accustomed to marketing that is based on problem/solution paradigms. We are sold fans without blades because they propel air in a less choppy fashion. We are sold soluble film strips to stick on our tongues so our breath doesn’t smell. We are even convinced to take out health insurance because when we binge watch TV shows, we might damage our necks.

Products and services are presented as the solutions we need to solve the problems we have. Charity fundraising – even innovative fundraising – is always based on this too.

New ideas can stem from new ways of framing your charity’s work using this paradigm. Take Oxfam’s Unwrapped for example… in which a goat is used as the solution to poverty and your difficult Christmas shopping.

2 Innovative fundraising ideas often make use of something that already exists… and incorporate that

I call this ‘hitching a ride’. Mark Twain suggested, There is no such thing as a new idea, and when it comes to innovation, it is certainly true that combining existing ideas in new ways really does work.

It is why we can expect to see more and more virtual-reality based innovations over the coming year. The technology exists, yet is still out of reach for most consumers so providing prospects and supporters with the chance to engage in the new technology will be appealing to them.

Fundraisers should consider what kind of content they are already using to help supporters feel connected to their cause and then identify how they can take that to another level with the technology available.

Imagine showing supporters what happens to the brain when it is affected by dementia, but from inside the brain? Instead of showing a supporter a guide dog training course, fundraisers could give supporters the chance to try it themselves by seeing through the eyes of a dog.

3 The new ideas still feel authentic to the charity releasing them

When an organisation is confident of its character and the way it wishes to be seen, it finds it easier to stretch the ways it can approach its existing and new audiences.  When a charity is unclear on these attributes, it can find it harder to mobilise around a new idea, and the innovation falters during the planning and development stages.

Take Camp Quality’s Christmas Crack Ups. It is a good idea for a charity cracker to exist but it is a cracking idea for the charity that believes ‘laughter is the best medicine’ to do away with rubbish ‘Dad jokes’ and make their Christmas crackers funnier than all the rest.

4 Innovative ideas require clear goals and committed resources

While you can set the intention of being innovative, you must ensure that these ideas are actually set up to help achieve a very clear goal. When an idea is set against a clear goalsuch as recruiting new supporters or securing a corporate partner, its feasibility can be judged and even compared against the performance of existing strategies. Without a clear goal, the innovative idea will not thrive under the stress testing that every idea must endure.

If you want to convince stakeholders that your innovative idea should be pursued, you will need the budget and time to plan, and then create the minimum viable product that will get the idea in front of its audience, and gather the evidence needed to demonstrate it really does achieve something good.

When you think about how many people you will need to help you make an innovative idea happen, why you need a clear goal becomes evident – because people have diverse perspectives and desires. If you can unite them with a clear and common goal then your idea will thrive, even if its development turns out to be trickier than anticipated, because everyone will endure the craziness because they have a simple answer to the question: Why are we doing this?

Dan is presenting at the upcoming Fundraising Forum 2017 conference, which is being held in Sydney on 5 to 7 September. To book, go to

Image: With Oxfam’s Unwrapped campaign a goat is used as the solution to poverty and your difficult Christmas shopping.

Dan Geaves

Dan has worked in the areas of marketing, communications and fundraising for 21 years. He is a partner at Marlin Communications – a company of 14 creative professionals proudly helping charities to create and launch campaigns and programs.

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