The concept of agility has been working its way into all manner of contexts and industries over the last few years. There are now so many processes which benefit from being responsive and adaptive, most significantly when technology is a factor in the process.
As a digital marketing agency we use an agile development approach when undertaking some types of development projects. Separately in our digital fundraising we’ve been working toward models of continually adapting fundraising campaigns and responding to audiences to help improve results and better engage supporters. As we’ve been practising some of these theories we’ve realised that most of what Agile is about is transferrable to fundraising and hence ‘Agile Fundraising’.
Having carried out some research into the existence of agile fundraising the most common interpretation of was where a charity is able to quickly respond to a situation on social media or in real time. But in practice the concept of agile is a bit deeper than this and requires a more fundamental shift in the way a charity operates and thinks.
Waterfall v Agile Approach
An agile approach to fundraising is to deliver smaller, but usable units of functionality or projects rather than one big structured project. This is a change from the waterfall approach of sequential stages which are reliant on completion of the previous stage. It also requires some sight of the end goal, something which may not reflect the market by the time it’s implemented. Agile emphasises testing and using data to learn and understand along the way which lowers the risk involved in major campaign rollouts. By working in this way charities are more able to anticipate and ultimately respond to changes in requirements better and faster than before.
We recently attended the Institute of Fundraising Innovation conference where the idea of failing when innovating was discussed. One of the beauties of an agile approach is that failure is almost required in order to really grow and create campaigns which are truly market led. Agile allows us to make these mistakes faster and with less overall negative impact.
It sounds a little contrary, but in order to be most effective at being agile there needs to be planning and perhaps some structural changes. Fundraising teams require different skills and resources and more empowered staff who can create and implement their own ideas. The benefit to the organisation is this approach often fosters accountability as people are more likely to go to greater efforts to ensure they succeed.
We’ll no doubt be talking more about this as we develop our thinking around agile fundraising and how we can help make charities and our clients more agile. Overall though we feel that an agile approach to fundraising will help charities satisfy the evolving expectations of their supporters.
Jason is the Founder and Managing Director of Copper. He’s an Australian by birth but now lives in London with his wife and 4-year-old son.