Culture eats strategy for breakfast

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Jon Kelly

Written by Wood for Trees Managing Director, Jon Kelly

I’ve read a couple of things in recent days which really rang true and reminded me of a well-known saying.

Firstly, in this article shared in our Cuttings e-newsletter, Charity Digital urges charities to use the data they already have. Getting information and insight from this data is easier than you may think and could lead to a potential gold mine of opportunities.

Secondly, Symon Russell, Director of Individual Giving at Air Ambulance Kent Surrey Sussex, shared this story on LinkedIn about how he solved a need he had for some garden shoes with some old walking shoes and triathlon laces. A very simple solution showing true innovation.

Symon demonstrated that innovation doesn’t have to be ground-breaking new products and Charity Digital reminded us that we might have the answers we need sitting on our doorsteps.

Both stories made me think of the number of times I’ve been frustrated over the years with organisations looking for the shiny prize of new technology or innovative fundraising products, whilst neglecting existing systems, products or processes that maybe just need a fresh look or a different perspective to give them a new lease of life.

What’s the point of a new system or a whole load more data, without the right skills and aptitudes to use it? Why spend months of energy and focus developing a brand-new data strategy when the organisation isn’t using its current assets in the optimum way? Creating a data culture within an organisation is the solution.

Einstein is quoted as saying the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. Perhaps this could be expanded to doing the same thing but in a different box.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not trying to argue that developing a data strategy isn’t an absolute must for any organisation or that using and benefitting from a vast array of new technologies and applications shouldn’t be your aim.

After all, this is what we help charities do at Wood for Trees and any data strategy worth its salt should encompass a review of people, skills and culture, not just data and technology. But I do think the first step should be to spend more time focusing on what you can get from, and how you currently use, the data and systems at your disposal.

There are many simple things most charities can do right now to improve their fundraising using existing data, such as:

  • Understand the overall lifetime value, engagement and cross-sell across your supporter base
  • Review audience selections for specific campaigns and communication strategies across your programme to identify further opportunities to engage supporters in alternative ways
  • Review prompt strategies and how much you’re asking donors to give
  • Profile your audience to understand who’s giving, and not giving, to your charity

You don’t need to wait until you’ve an overarching data strategy in place to complete these tasks and acting on them now could reap immediate benefits, as well as helping direct and inform future strategies. I’d always argue that some knowledge is better than none and important (and innovative) decisions can be made without being hamstrung waiting for the perfect solution or an ever-increasing pool of data.

It’s time to think about how you can make small changes now that could deliver positive impacts in short timescales. Identify and highlight best practice projects that embody the goals you’re trying to achieve. Champion and encourage the work you’re already doing and the people driving this. Understand and evaluate your current successes and communicate them to your teams. Raising the profile and celebrating these small steps will encourage further growth across your organisation.

Act now and start innovating with the resources at your fingertips! If you’d like our help to embark on a data journey within your organisation, contact us here. Learn more about our approach to starting a foundation audit or creating a data strategy here. You can also sign up to receive our monthly Cuttings e-newsletter for industry insights here.