Ye Olde Charity Shoppe of Curiosity

An interview with Craig Linton by Jenny Taylor

Craig Linton urges us to be more curious “If you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly”. Curiosity is undoubtedly a wonderful thing, however it’s not always something that us working in the charity sector excel at, according to charity expert Craig Linton.

In this modern world with contactless payments, A.I. in our homes and even a burgeoning new frontier of driverless cars, the charity sector can find it hard to keep up. Reliance on direct mailing and shaking buckets for income feels at odds with our modern way of life. While still highly successful now, how long can this last?

As I sit writing this, googling quotes, listening to a library of millions of songs, working on a paper-thin laptop, I think about how much of this would have been possible even ten years ago.

So, what changed? Put simply: curiosity. People in the private sector like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk had extraordinary curiosity. They saw the world not only as it was, but as it could be. They pushed boundaries and questioned the status quo, regardless of what others said. I can’t imagine there was much early demand for people sharing pictures of their breakfasts.

With increased funding pressures, charities need to become more curious and take a leaf out of these visionaries’ playbooks.

Curiosity drives innovation and with increasing competition for the public’s donations, it is exactly what charities need to make sure they don’t get left behind.

I caught up with Craig Linton, the Managing Director of Donor Voice and author of “Donors for Life” and “The Fundraising Detective”, to find out more.

“You can’t blame charities for being more cautious than curious” says Linton, “their money is for good causes, not for experimenting with marketing! But sometimes a little curiosity can create big rewards”.

“So many charities have almost identical fundraising strategies, but with increased competition, we can no longer justify repeating the same tried and tested routines and expect the same results”, continues Linton. “The charity sector is on the edge of a new era”.

So, what will define this new era of curiosity?

“It’s not good enough to accept what was done before. We must question not only what we are doing, but why? What makes it successful, how could it be better?”. Linton believes that we need to shift our mindset from viewing supporters as statistics and instead view them as people. “It’s all about understanding who we want to donate. It  is only then that we can start a meaningful relationship, and ultimately get more donations”.

For a long time, private sector companies have embraced this notion; creating roles such as Chief Customer Officer to put the customer in the centre of what they do.

Some charities are also embracing this new philosophy too and are seeing fantastic returns.

Linton highlighted Scope with their Mindful Monsters Campaign as a particular success story.

There are of course great examples of innovation coming from smaller charities too.

However, innovation always carries a risk. For each successful campaign there are plenty more which don’t hit the mark. They may not be noticed at all, or worse noticed for the wrong reasons, damaging the brand and the organisation’s reputation.

With a lack of human resources and crisis management competency in smaller organisations, it is more up to chance than insight as to whether a campaign is a success.

Therefore, to mitigate risks, medium and small sized charities can sometimes fall behind in the innovation stakes.

So, with pressure to be innovative, how can small to medium sized charities respond to the changing market?

Syndicated research is a great way to get an understanding of supporters’ and the general public’s views and what new things may work with them.

“Syndicated products can offer a great solution for charities who want to dip their toes in the water of insight for the first time” explains Linton, “BrandVue is by far the best product on the market that I’ve seen”.

BrandVue is a daily measure of supporter journeys and campaign impact across 120 charities in the UK. It empowers marketers and brand managers to adjust creatives and produce tailored insight-led content.

“Unlike many products on the market, it allows marketers, with a quick click of a button, to create their own bespoke data report, at the fraction of the price of other options”.

It’s clear the charity sector is overdue a shake-up and there is huge opportunity for those individuals with the ability to see things a different way and the tenacity to push ideas through. But the true key to staying on top in changing times according to Craig Linton. Curiosity.

Strong, evidence-based insight can minimise risk and maximise the reward of innovative ideas. Insight is no longer the preserve of the biggest charities, as new insight tools, like BrandVue charities, make insight accessible for all, without breaking the bank.

As a new era of curiosity dawns, working with Craig Linton, we’ve compiled a simple checklist of how charities can become more curious:

  1. Do try new things
  2. Don’t jump in without doing your research first
  3. Do utilise all the research you have access to
  4. Don’t research unless you have a clear plan how you want to use the data
  5. Do question why you are doing what you are currently
  6. Don’t accept “this is what we’ve always done”
  7. Do get to know your audience and make them feel valued
  8. Don’t treat them like statistics or expect them all to be motivated in the same ways
  9. Do take lessons from the private sector – how they innovate and make profit
  10. Don’t compromise your morals or that of your charity
  11. Do look at what other charities are doing
  12. Don’t do the same thing – you want to stand out and tailor activity to your brand

Jenny Taylor

Working with a variety of charity clients has given Jenny a broad understanding of the charity sector, bringing her multi-methodological research expertise. She excels in weaving abstract pieces of data together to tell a rich, and actionable story.