Would I be right to suspect that you may not currently be sitting with your hand up?
I’m sure that meetings are on the increase. It feels that every minute of a fundraisers day is packed with meetings. Is there is an increase in decision by committee, meetings to agree sign off and meetings to agree the sign off about the sign off?
I can’t help but wonder, that in the UK at least, if we are bruised by recent negative press coverage including the chief execs pay debate, criticism about admin costs or ‘overheads’ and a recent expose on BBC Panorama on charity investment policies. This has left us fearful of criticism, more risk averse that ever before and in our anxiety to ensure that our decisions are transparent and stand up under scrutiny, a culture of meetings that results in paralysis by analysis.
Meanwhile while we are in meetings and deliberating over our decision making the world is changing fast. Einstein said the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So there is an imperative for charities to respond to the changing environment and needs of supporters to test new ways to raise money, engage with supporters and improve services. To do anything new there is a degree of risk. But in our fast moving world there is also great risk in just continuing to do more of the same.
The irony of this is that charities exist to make change happen, to take bold action – no charity was set up because everything was OK.
While we are meeting to discuss our next big fundraising idea, campaign or service delivery innovation, assessing risk, writing and signing off lengthy business cases, children are still at risk from abuse, people are dying from preventable conditions, our oceans are being polluted, there is inequality, suffering and conflict and the list goes on.
“Make a decision. It doesn’t have to be a wise decision or a perfect one. Just make one.” Seth Godin
Innovation is about getting things done. Taking action. Time is a precious commodity, yet our time is often spent caught up in meetings and as time wanes so does our passion and enthusiasm to make our ideas happen. I’m not saying make rash decisions, I’m not saying don’t think it through but before you suck the passion and soul out of people’s ideas and enthusiasm with meetings about risk registers and business cases, consider if there is a way that you can cheaply and simply just give something a go.
We can learn from how entrepreneurs view risk, Eric Ries in his book The Lean Startup talks about developing a ‘minimum viable product’ as a way to collect learning from customers with the least effort to test if the idea has potential. This doesn’t have to require big budgets or big risk – just the attitude to test.
We can minimize risk by testing. We should be testing our new ideas (as well as current ways of working) all the time. If you view everything as a test it helps you get over the fear of failure because a test can’t fail – you just establish if the test worked or not. Then you make changes and test again – and again – and again. Until you get it right or decide that it is not workable.
If you can make testing part of your culture, part of just how you ‘do things round here’ then the potential risks of trying new ideas doesn’t seem so scary anymore. And if they are less scary, then there is more chance that they will happen.
And that’s important because charities exist to make change happen.