'Idea Storming' for Fundraising Professionals
In a fundraising climate where oversaturation, more competition for funds and new technologies make attracting and retaining donors that much more difficult, innovation is vital for nonprofit organizations looking to survive and thrive not only today, but in the future.
In his book "Idea Stormers: How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs," author Bryan Mattimore lays out techniques and frameworks on how to encourage an atmosphere of innovation. Mattimore, co-founder of innovation agency The Growth Engine Co., has worked with companies and nonprofits big and small for nearly 30 years, including the City of New York, homeless shelters, child-welfare organizations, museums, libraries and YMCA chapters.
Mattimore spoke recently with FundRaising Success about his book and how fundraisers can utilize its teachings.
FundRaising Success: What was your motivation for writing the book?
Bryan Mattimore: Over the last 20 years, since my first book was published, there's been a tremendous advance about how to design and facilitate ideation sessions and also how to successfully do innovation programs with companies.
I wanted to share that learning in part because the smaller and medium-sized companies often can't afford the work we're doing, but these techniques are valuable for them as well. It was a way to really multiply the impact of the research and work and empirical validation of all these techniques we use to share in a broader and bigger way.
FS: How can the smaller organizations — the one- or two-person development departments — take away some of the learnings when maybe they don't have as much time or resources to devote to these types of discussions?
BM: The book talks about all-day ideation sessions or even half-day ideation sessions. First of all, these techniques are very, very simple to learn and use. This is not rocket science. It's easy to do this stuff, so people should not be intimidated. And I wrote the book in a very how-to way so it will be easy to use the techniques.
The other thing is they don't have to do it all day. They can order pizza at lunch and brainstorm some new ideas in 30 or 40 minutes. This stuff can be used for a small company. Even with three or four or five people, you can sit around the table, use some of these techniques and generate some new ideas.
The second thought is this whiteboard technique is a really good way to get ideas even with a one- or two- or three-person office. You write some ideas on the whiteboard, you decide to do it over a week or two-week period, you keep writing ideas down, and over the span of that time you'll get a whole bunch of ideas because you'll have had the soak time that you needed to start making connections between random thoughts on the whiteboard, this interactive suggestion box as I call it.
FS: There are so many techniques and steps in the book. What are some key takeaways for fundraisers?
BM: Like other experts, there's certainly a place for tremendous expertise in the world of fundraising, and there are proven approaches and methodology in the world of fundraising. We know, especially in the direct-mail area, that certain things work a lot better than other things. There are known successful approaches. The challenge is that all those things that we know as experts, you want to acknowledge those and use those, but then you also want to go beyond those. So this book is designed to help people question assumptions. They're taking a lot of things for granted about how you do and don't do fundraising, and this is an opportunity to maybe, using some of the techniques like questioning assumptions or 20 questions or problem redefinition or wishing, look at things differently. All those techniques are valuable when you're looking for totally new or breakthrough ideas.
The other thing is even a technique like the worst-idea technique. It sounds crazy — you come up with bad ideas, not good ideas, and then you try to do the opposite or you find something good in the bad idea that you can turn into a good idea. As crazy as that technique sounds, it really works. If you want to get some kind of breakthrough idea, something that's never been done in the industry, a lot of these approaches should help you do that.
FS: How important is it today with so much saturation on the donor side to find those breakthroughs?
BM: We're at a point now of tremendous clutter in this world. The problem is everybody is being called a million times, and the donors have limited resources ultimately, so they have to make decisions about who they will and who they won't donate to. So it's not unlike positioning a product; we have to be very clear about what our positioning is, but also not only clear in the positioning, but also creative ways to reach these people and get the message out.
One of the assumptions in the fundraising world is that most of the donations are given by individuals. The relative amount of donations by companies is very small relative to those of individuals. So you might question that assumption that those two have to be separate. Isn't there some way that you could bring those two together? Why should they be separate?
FS: Do nonprofits need to run more like the innovative companies out there that are succeeding?
BM: I'm no expert in fundraising, but certainly in the world of packaged goods marketing, it's obviously the Apples of the world who are achieving extraordinary successes because they have been so creative in the products and services they're offering. My bias is that there is no better time to do the tremendously innovative things that a company like Apple is doing because people are interested in the new. There's even more pressure now for the new: a) because of the clutter and the mental clutter of communication, and b) because it's just more fun and more exciting to be part of something totally new.