Three steps any small charity can take to innovate

18 June 2024
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This is part of our collection of resources aimed at small fundraising teams, individual fundraisers and small charities. Produced by the Chartered Institute and our expert partners.

Charlotte Sherman
Charlotte Sherman
Growing Giving Policy and Partnerships Manager, Chartered Institute of Fundraising

Fundraisers in small charities can be the best-placed to drive through innovation and boost creativity. Here are three ways you can start to think about innovation and embedding it into your small charity.

Small charities are often amongst the most creative and inspirational innovators in civil society. Some of the most authentic fundraising campaigns were only possible thanks to small charities’ in-depth knowledge of their beneficiaries and supporters, as well as the collaborative mindset needed to turn an idea into a success.  

That said, the barriers fundraisers in small charities face when innovating, can be high.  

The acceleration of digital transformation, spurred on by the pandemic, has made the need for digital skills and infrastructure even more important, whilst the cost-of-living crisis has increased fundraising costs, putting more pressure on finances than ever before.  

But we can still be confident that there are many passionate donors who want to support small charities, our partnership with GOOD Agency on Tomorrow’s Donors Today found that many people valued local impact and tackle grassroots problems.  

So if you are a fundraiser in a small charity looking to reach new supporters, or reinvigorate relationships with new ones, here three steps you can take to get started:  

1: Decide what kind of innovation your fundraising programme needs

There are many ways to innovate, depending on your fundraising mix, supporters’ preferences, capacity and resources.  

Innovation doesn’t have to mean huge changes to your fundraising campaigns. Many fundraisers are using incremental innovation every day, by reviewing a campaign or activity’s performance and identifying areas to adjust and improve. This is an extremely valuable way to steadily grow income and improve supporter experience.  

Running parallel to this is step-change innovation, which can have a big impact on a fundraising programme, but comes with more risk than incremental innovation. This could involve launching a new product, like a lottery or event, or deciding to adopt digital channels to connect with new audiences. Often this will require some up-front costs and can take time to generate return on investment, so it is worth taking time to discuss new ideas with colleagues and trustees to ensure the project meets its goals.

2: Get your trustees interested and excited about fundraising

Having buy-in from your trustees is essential to getting support and investment for new fundraising projects, however, with many small charities coping with increased running costs, it is understandable that some trustees will have questions and concerns before trying something new.  

Fortunately, there are several ways to showcase the value of investing in fundraising, depending on your board’s level of knowledge and their appetite for risk.  

A good starting point is to make sure every trustee understands the pros and cons of different fundraising activities, our resource Trustees and Fundraising: A practical guide provides an overview of the key risks and opportunities trustees should be aware of.  

On top of this, we recommend fundraising is discussed at every board meeting so all trustees have a clear picture of what is and isn’t working so they can make informed decisions on how to move forward.  

Once these foundations have been established, you’ll need to build a compelling case for investment to highlight the value of a new project. There are several ways you could go about this: 

3: Put your supporters at the heart of decision making

There have never been so many ways to connect with new or existing donors, but it’s important to recognise that not every product or channel is suitable for every kind of donor.  

A supporter-centric mindset is therefore key to making sure any new fundraising project resonates with your charity’s target audience. As Saira Rahim, Individual Giving Manager, JDRF puts it: “Instead of thinking ‘What do we want to do’, ask yourself ‘What do our supporters want from us?’ and ‘How do we want our supporters to feel?”.   

Small charities often have close relationships with loyal supporters, meaning they are perfectly placed to understand how they like to give. When you’re next talking to a donor, you could run a few new ideas past them to hear what they think or use past feedback forms to find out what is most important to them. Sometimes for larger projects or when you are looking for inspiration, targeted supporter surveys can also be helpful.  

We look forward to seeing how small charities continue to create exciting and original ways to reach and inspire new donors.  

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