New ideas for charities: Can partnering with businesses work?

Katherine William-Powlett shares her thoughts on innovation and on leadership in the voluntary sector. Katherine no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site.

Innovation is all the rage these days.  Income for many charities is dropping or disappearing completely.  There has never been more pressure to come up with new ideas to give your organisation the edge.

The word ‘innovation’  can be overused and make many in the sector sceptical.  But most would want to successfully implement a good new idea.  How do you go about finding one?

The trick is to jump out of your usual mind set and look at everything around you in a new way.  It can result in some radical solutions that are not only different but save money and provide a better service.  Thinking differently is hard to do alone.  One way to is to put yourself in a position where you are stimulated by others who have a totally different perspective, but common aims.

Lund University Hospital thought about who else wanted people to be comfortable in beds. They got together with a hotel group and Patient Hotels were born, serving new mothers and cancer patients.  The average cost reduction per bed is 60% and yet well-being is improved for both patients and their families.

BT and Scope both have an interest in communication.  Together they came up with ‘Wheeltop project’ providing a device that fits on at wheel chair and allows the occupant to send SMS messages, download music and communicate in ways that the rest of us take for granted.  Neither partner would have come up with an innovation like this alone.

This is not just for the big players.  The House of St Barnabas in Soho, London, a charity helping homeless women into work, has an annual income of under £300K.  It operates from a large central London premises with a Grade 1 listed interior.  Not needing all the space they joined with private members club Quintessentially. The result: an income for the charity, restored rooms and a ‘pop-up’ club for members .

In changing times all charities can look around them with fresh eyes:  it’s free to look and just could bring you the next big idea.

For inspiration you may wish to come to NCVO’s next Business Breakfast on 15 November (contact looking at how businesses and charities can collaborate for mutual benefit.  Free to anyone who books on to all six Innovation Group LIVE! Events.

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