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enough buzzwords – more action


I followed the Institute of Fundraising National Convention’s twitter stream with interest last week and was, like many of my friends and colleagues in the sector, amazed at just how many times certain words, phrases or ideas came to the fore.

Lucy Gowar’s latest blog sums it up nicely around the use of the word innovation every other sentence!success or failure direction sign

What amazes me is that here at Bottom Line Ideas we’ve been talking to Trustees, managers and junior team members for over five years about the importance of understanding and managing, not avoiding, risk.  In fact, these blog pages are littered with ideas and thoughts on the subject.  But when a handful of ‘gurus’ talk about the same thing, we must all of a sudden pay attention to the concepts of risk, failure, innovation and learning from them to move us all forwards.


Don’t misunderstand me, I’m grateful to the likes of the afore-mentioned folks for raising the issue so publicly and refreshing it in the minds of the charity sector audience, but this isn’t new and it isn’t news.  The fact that the subject of the sector’s risk aversion / fear of ‘the new’ is still making plenary session speeches is just depressing!

Why haven’t sector leaders seen the wood for the trees yet?  Why is it taking so long for those at the top to recognise what those of us lower down the ‘hierarchy’ have known for years… that assessing risk, mitigating negative outcomes and pushing forwards with doing things well in changing circumstances is key to sustainable success.

Just for the record, I’ll say it again:

  • You cannot have a 10-year track record to assess for new strategies and tactics like social media, text giving etc
  • You cannot predict with any certainty what Facebook, Twitter and Youtube will introduce in the next six months
  • We cannot rely on supporters being engaged in the same ways as they have in the past when so many other alternatives are available to them
  • We cannot rely solely on donor pyramids or tried and tested models of stewardship any more.  Many supporters don’t want to be engaged in this sense; they may just give and move on

Now it wouldn’t be one of our blogs if we didn’t provide some solutions so here’s a few tips we’ve been sharing with decision-makers and seeing put into practice for a few years now:

  • Don’t wait for a consultant to tell you what to do (says me!).  Listen to the members of your team closer to the issues or initiatives than you are and trust them to use that experience.  If they can’t train them so that next time they can move you forwards
  • Publicly live your organisation’s values – very few people then stick to obstructive or non-helpful decision-making
  • Stop talking about not being afraid to fail every once in a while and take the chance of it actually happening… publicly… and then share what you learnt and build positive action plans as a result
  • This doesn’t mean be reckless. Mitigate against risk – this is just sensible practice – but not to the extent where you and your team are incapacitated
  • Focus on the potential positives, the upside, the wins etc.  a great example from recent weeks is the Harrison’s fund campaign – I wish my son had cancer. Yes, the campaign received a small number of very vociferous complaints but they also smashed fundraising expectations and generated vastly more positive media coverage
  • Don’t reward failure, reward learning from failure shared across the organisation and set target to ensure the same actions aren’t repeated
  • If you perceive risks that others don’t and are basing decisions on them, share them!  As other people learn, you will collectively get better at spotting and mitigating risks which enables you to move forwards with positive decisions
  • Finally, leaders have to walk the walk for innovation and effective risk-management to be a reality within their organisations.  Do it and keep doing it until your teams understand that this is the new best practice!

Any more ideas you could add to help our sector think and act its way through tough times?


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