Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Here's a New Idea: Someone Else's

I'm often asked how to come up with the latest innovation or new concept in fundraising. Here's a secret: I haven't had a new idea in a decade! Just kidding. But in all reality I think that one of the most important things we can learn is how to take an existing idea from another organization and adapt it for use in our environment. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel, but you can always put new tires on that baby. I think one of the best things about our industry is the open sharing and cross pollination of strong networks. I have never picked up the phone or sent an email to someone asking for them to share their work or use their idea and adapt it and heard the word "no". 

What does it take to adapt a new idea and make it yours? Here's the steps I usually follow to find the latest and greatest.

1. Read, participate and attend! Read blogs, websites, social media to see what others are doing and to find some great samples. CASE, SupportingAdvancement, Fundsvcs, and other sites have great samples! Twitter and SlideShare contain tons of examples as well. Participate in group sharing by adding your samples for others to see. Send out your items and when you do, you will receive more in return. And finally attend as many professional development opportunities as possible. Conferences have tables of swaps, AFP chapters have tons of sharing resources, as do others. 

2. Find something you like? Email or call the office of the people who created it and talk to them about it. Most people will be so flattered and can help you with the strengths of their process and the pitfalls to avoid. Then send them a thank you note for their time and always credit them if the idea is originally theirs. Sometimes you'll find out they stole it from someone else too! 

3. Having trouble with a concept? Lean on the expert resources you have. Take the samples you acquire directly to your communications or marketing team of designers to show them exactly what you want. They can help you brainstorm how to apply that idea to your organization. I keep an entire folder in my Dropbox of screenshots of wonderful things I've seen and want to implement some day and I also have a binder of clear sleeves housing work I admire as well. These inspiration collections help me greatly when the dreaded blank state happens. 

So what are you going to do the next time you need a new idea? Get out there, ask for some help and inspiration and make it your own! I look forward to hearing about your latest great "steal" from another organization or idea that you would like to share. Add your tips in the comments below.




  1. Great ideas. May I add that it is important to get out of the "development" world and see what other sectors are doing. Bloggers and tweeters in the hospitality, design, architecture and restaurant sectors are amazing resources.

  2. Great Addition Cyndi! I couldn't agree more! There are some amazing ideas out there! Thanks!

  3. I have a (now two) "Binders of Good Ideas." When I'm looking to work on a newsletter, I look and see what other orgs are doing. When I'm writing an appeal or thank you, I do the same. Speaking of thank yous, thanks to you, The Great Acknowledgement Swap is a must use for us here in Boston. Thanks Lynne!

  4. Robin,
    Thanks so much, I'm happy to help in any way I can!

  5. This is exactly why I like working in higher education advancement! I have met with other peer colleagues since coming back from a professional development conference and appreciate the genuine camaraderie, especially when sharing ideas and best practices.