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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

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Innovation in fundraising is over-rated

This opinion piece is over 9 years old

Chair of the Institute of Fundraising Scotland John Brady says funding ideas don't always have to be brand new

Innovation in fundraising is over-rated.

That might sounds controversial, but before you turn the page, let me explain. In 2001, as a Sense Scotland fundraiser, a colleague from another charity, asked me about a new fundraising programme we had been running successfully using a home money box. As I explained the methodology – a mixture of using the telephone and direct mail, with donors saving coins in a box then sending in the proceeds – I was taken aback with the response: “that sounds terribly old fashioned”.

Hmm. Maybe it was, I thought, but it was also creating a huge increase in our database, and a growth of income in cash terms and from regular givers, so why should we care that it wasn’t the latest technology, it wasn’t digital.

I don’t really think there is no place for innovation in fundraising, but what is over-rated is the notion that innovation has to be brand new, and has to use the very latest technology or cutting edge social media platform. The money box idea was new to us at Sense Scotland in 2001, so it was an innovation as far as we and our supporters were concerned.

Innovation in fundraising is over-rated

Innovation can mean fundraisers doing things that are new to them and their organisation, it doesn’t have to be something that would bowl over staff at Google HQ

Innovation can mean fundraisers doing things that are new to them and their organisation, it doesn’t have to be something that would bowl over staff at Google HQ. New could be a tweak or an adaptation to something they are already doing. Anything that keeps a technique alive and raises more money, or even maintains income at a time when others are experiencing decline, is a victory.

I’m delighted to be showcasing great Scottish fundraising at this year’s Institute of Fundraising Scottish Conference in a session with the above title. The title is partly a nod to the Clash, the first band I ever saw. London Calling – what an album and what a gig! But it’s also in reference to the great fundraising going on in Scotland within charities already doing lots of innovative things.

EMMS International, an Edinburgh based Christian healthcare charity, needed to raise £250,000 to rebuild a hospital in Chinchpada in Gujarat, India. Traditionally it had a rigid mailing formula with four newsletters and an appeal at Christmas. A new fundraising director decided to scrap that and instead spend money on an appeal at Easter to a wider audience with a letter and appeal brochure. The letter came from the lead doctor in the hospital and his wife rather than the chief executive. That may not sound like a rocket-fuelled campaign to you but the rise in income was. Instead of a net income of £10,000 based on business as usual they received a seven-fold increase of £70,000.

People attending conferences quite naturally want to hear about the best fundraising in the world whether from Scotland, the rest of UK, Europe or even further away. But sometimes in our desire to find out what is best practice we spend so much time gazing longingly at London for inspiration, we miss the truly inspiring stuff on our own doorstep. This year I will be celebrating some of the truly remarkable work going on right here – I bet you could learn a thing or to!

John Brady is chair of the Institute of Fundraising Scotland.