From the President / Innovating in the Right Way
Quick. Nimble. Innovative. These are all words that have been used to describe how charities should be operating now—to be able to anticipate and respond effectively to changes in the environment and bring to bear new ideas and resources to create impact. In a 24/7, nonstop, social media world, being first out of the gate—being the fastest—and changing and trying new trends are apparently the goals to which we are supposed to aspire.
There are moments when being quick, nimble, and innovative is extremely important. Take, for instance, some of the stories and ideas in this issue of Advancing Philanthropy, such as disaster relief. We expect—and frankly, demand—that those types of organizations get to work right away and have the knowledge and skills to be quick and nimble in the face of horrible challenges. There are some great examples in this issue, along with takeaways and perspectives, that organizations of all causes can use in their own fundraising.
But in our day-to-day work, what does it mean to be quick and nimble and innovative? I’ve said from day one when I joined AFP that I want our association to strive to advance the profession through innovation. I want us to rethink how we offer programs, network with members, and create an inclusive and tolerant community that welcomes all fundraisers and assists you in advancing your career.
But that doesn’t mean I think we have to innovate and rethink everything we do. Far from it. I came to AFP and immediately noticed several things that impressed me. One of the most important exercises the staff and I are going through is an analysis of what we do best, what we can do better, and what we shouldn’t be doing at all.
We sometimes get so caught up in wanting to be seen as nimble and innovative that we forget the core of what we do and simply effect change because it’s new, or because other organizations are doing it. For example, I don’t think we need to rethink the core of fundraising. Fundraising is and always has been about relationship-building. It is by nature a slow process that you can’t rush or take shortcuts with.
Sure, you can play around the edges. You can show me numbers about direct mail versus email versus texting versus social media. Someone will undoubtedly come up with the next “Ice Bucket Challenge.” And those ideas and trends are all important.
But none of those ideas and programs and trends change the fundamental elements and dynamics of fundraising. If you’re not reaching your fundraising goal, is it because you haven’t innovated enough or copied what other organizations are doing with new trends? Or should you review what you’re doing to ensure you’re following the best practices that have served fundraising for decades?
Look, I’m not saying to ignore innovation. Innovation isn’t just a good idea; I think it’s critical for your charity’s survival. An organization that isn’t innovating, that isn’t looking to see how the landscape is changing and what new trends are emerging, is bound to eventually fail. But we need to innovate and change in the right ways, focusing on the right aspects of our organizations, making sure they align with our constituents.
We are doing plenty of innovation here at AFP, as you will see over the coming year. Here’s some of our thinking so far.
We have a lot of great information on our website to help fundraisers, and we have numerous members who are experts and groundbreakers in the field who are eager to lend a hand or offer advice. It’s not just a question of what information is available and what is missing that we need to add but also how we make it available to you. We’re changing how we will present educational resources to you, we’re going to expand our communications vehicles, and we’re going to emphasize the skills and knowledge you need at different points in your fundraising career. We have coined the phrase “ages and stages,” and AFP intends to be there for you and help guide you as you go through the various “ages and stages” of your career.
Also, we have a great chapter system that brings fundraisers together locally. But as technology makes communication easier and brings us closer, how do we create a larger network of individual fundraisers who want to talk to their peers in different ways? We want to create networks that support you, no matter your cause, experience level, or geography.
Those are just a couple of examples you’ll hear more about soon. These innovations are not happening just because we want to be nimble and innovative (though we do), and they are not happening just because we’re trying to copy other organizations (though I’m a big believer in “borrowing” what other great organizations are doing). Our innovation is happening because we are focused on providing the best possible service to our members. To do that, we are continuously looking at ourselves, honestly and candidly, and encouraging a culture of asking questions and challenging what we’re doing.
You want to be quick and nimble and open to change and innovation? Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. Look outward to your constituents first, then inward at yourself, and before you know it, you’ll likely find all the ideas and innovation that you need.