Five ways charity leaders can encourage innovation

From Google’s innovation time to assessing a senior team’s capability, organisations can do a lot more to embed a digital culture.

“We need a digital strategy” is an oft-repeated mantra among those who work in the not-for-profit sector. Yet merely forming a mission statement, thrashed out in a trustee brainstorm or acquired at considerable cost from an external agency, is not enough for an organisation to thrive in the digital age.

Something more fundamental is required. Creating a truly digital culture isn’t just about putting some resources into a Facebook microsite or hiring a community manager to look after your Twitter feed, it’s about looking at how the cream of the digital crop (Google, Facebook, Uber) have disrupted the traditional way of running a business. It’s about learning from those methods and adapting them to suit your cause. Here are a few suggestions.

Encourage innovation

Google is the poster boy here, allowing staff to spend up to 20% of their time on side projects has led to the creation of Gmail, Google Cardboard and, this month, a way to use Google Maps to assess suitability of housing for solar panels.

This kind of thinking can easily be applied to the charity sector. For example, Shelter has recently introduced an innovation labs programmewhere every three months it puts a small, cross-department team together to work on a specific challenge. The programme has already found a number of solutions and is a perfect example of the kind of approach that grew from embracing a digital culture.

Digital is not just about a product or a service — it’s about a new way of doing things.

Enable a collaborative culture

There’s little value in just telling people how digital can improve the way they work — they need to be shown how to do it themselves. Macmillan Cancer Support is training as many staff as possible in the best use of social media. As Amanda Neylon, head of digital, explains: “We’ve trained nearly two thirds of the organisation in social now, so instead of having three people in the social media team, we’ve effectively got 1,000.”

Embrace multiple platforms

Most digital platforms require very little investment yet can offer a simple, cost-effective way of capitalising on your resources and communicating with a new audience. All an organisation has to do is seek out the channels that best fit its needs.

Take the British Heart Foundation, which has created a new revenue stream by opening up an online shop on eBay. This is an organisation that has countless items for sale through its existing offline operation, yet adding a digital channel has enabled the company to reach a wider audience.

Engage end-users

A positive user-experience is essential. The sooner the end user is involved and their feedback taken into account, the better the final product will be.

This kind of approach can lead to outcomes like Jointly, a successful mobile app created by Carers UK that allows people caring for an individual to share information, coordinate rotas, medication lists and more.

Look at the leaders around you

Look at your senior leadership team. When you’re asking a question today, are you asking it differently to how you were 10 years ago? In my opinion, the fallen titans of the commercial world such as IBM or Kodak failed to do that. The failure to accept changes and embrace a new way of working saw younger, more agile companies replace them as the giants of the digital age.

Obviously I’m not suggesting that you immediately cull everyone without a Facebook page from your executive board, or only consider trustees with more than 5,000 Twitter followers. However, I do believe that it is important to be honest about the digital gaps in a charity’s leadership.

original article: by Jonathan Simmons — Chief experience officer at digital agency Zone