should charities innovate in digital?

In digital there is always a new trend that’s causing buzz, at the moment its Quora. It’s easy to get excited by the potential of many of these new trends but when you work in charity its hard to justify investment when something is new and still relatively unproven.

For a long time I thought charities had the most constraints. However people I’ve spoken in other sectors have said they think it’s even harder to break away from the norms of their comms routines and channels.

I once spoke at an event for pharma comms professionals and was astounded that some of the things I saw as standard digital practice were seen as groundbreaking in the pharma industry. The sector is just so heavily regulated and very fearful of being taken to court.

yoobot case studyIn a conversation with someone from a mainstream publisher they told me how they had a specific team for innovation and if you wanted to do something different you had to pass the concept to that team first. This meant the everyday small bits of innovation ended up taking much longer to come to fruition (if they did at all).

I’m fortunate to have been involved in some great projects which have innovated in the third sector digital space. I’m personally thrilled that our British Heart Foundation site has even been featured in a best of the web case study book (The Internet Case Study Book).

I can’t imagine being in an environment where you literally just operate. But I think it’s important to recognise that innovation comes in all shapes and sizes. I also think that charities are the perfect breeding ground for digital comms innovation. Here’s why:

  • the bottom line is not the only objective – with diverse objectives comes diverse thinking!
  • it’s not just a day job – less top down, more bottom up.
  • we often have hard to reach audiences or complex messages – the traditional approaches just don’t often make the grade.
  • staff resources are scarce – you have to ‘muck in’ and try different things because there aren’t enough people.
  • we’re used to working with little or no money – when there’s no/little money involved the impact of failing is reduced meaning you’re more likely to try something new.
  • charity comms can look home made and be accepted – supporters generally accept a bit of roughness round the edges from charity digital comms (but perhaps only a little!).

Of course at the end of the day there are barriers to innovation no matter what sector you’re in. But I think the key things are to recognise that innovation can start small, and that being afraid to fail means you probably won’t innovate.

One thought on “should charities innovate in digital?

  1. The two main drivers of innovation I’ve noticed are passionate staff who won’t accept “good enough” and are always on the look out for new ways to be faster, more efficient and more effective; and a working environment which gives people the space and confidence to take risks and try something new.

    There’s a particular trend online of always on the lookout for the next best thing – where will Quora be in 6 months time? Will people bore of it and have moved on? Will it go down the road of Google Wave? How do you tell?!

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