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Innovation and Fundraising Should Not be Strangers

I was honored recently to be asked to serve on the board of the Butler Innovation Fund. When I first sat down over lunch with the new President of Butler to discuss the concept of the fund and what it would mean to an already vibrant University, (how can you not be vibrant with several thousand top notch students mixing together every day on campus), I was not sure what sort of impact it would have.  By the time I left the lunch meeting, I was extremely excited about potential impact and what a change agent the fund might be!

President James Danko instilled such excitement as he outlined the vision for such a fund to me. I knew the fund, if operated properly, could be transformational in many ways. Most of you will probably agree as you read the vision outline for the Innovation Fund below:

Butler University Innovation Fund

Butler wants to invest in ideas−ideas that will help put our University on the map; ideas that will help us reach new levels of excellence, especially in the areas of teaching and learning. We want to foster creativity and facilitate collaboration. We want to encourage innovation and the use of new technologies. We want to enhance our existing programs and help support our mission.

The first board meeting did not disappoint in any manner.

We had been assigned quite a bit of homework in reading, organizing and voting on a large number of grant requests. I felt I should be prepared for a dry meeting discussing voting stats. It was literally quite the opposite, as we actively debated what each area of innovation could mean to the University, the staff, the students and the greater community. The entire meeting became a magical journey of what if this and what if that for projects affecting nearly every department of the university. The resulting grants moved the innovation meter to even higher levels for several departments and the University as a whole.

During the hours I was in the board meeting, my mind wandered into thinking about the many charities within the rapidly expanding customer base of Bloomerang we were helping, and my discussions with a friend, and one of the charity sector’s most respected wise sages, Roger Craver.

Those thoughts and discussions led me to wonder just how many, if not most, charities would benefit from just such a fund being created by their board and leadership. Roger has implored this numerous times in his Agitator posts. One of my favorites is this recent one regarding the use of special funds to drive growth and innovation in our beloved sector. Another Roger post/rant I loved is his one on the fear of failure.

Surely an innovation fund might allow such experimentation and possible failures to occur. Would it not be wonderful for every charity to have such an option!

My bet is most, if not all, of the charities who seek to establish an Innovation Fund will see the following happen:

  • Numerous major donors becoming excited and underwriting the fund in short order
  • A large amount of “thinking outside the box” and true experimentation
  • Breakthroughs in reaching brand new donor segments
  • Renewed excitement in current donor segments
  • A willingness to “fail fast” so exciting new successes can spawn from them
  • A large number of other charities lining up to find out how they can do it!

What do you think fundraisers and nonprofit executives? Is it worth a try? I would love to hear about any others who have already tried this idea, please let me know!

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