The case against innovation

Years ago, when the Web was still young, I created a website that scrolled left and right, not up and down. I did it because I could, and because I thought it would be cool. My stated reason was that the site was in solidarity with the world’s workers, all of whom are equal. (I was trying to be funny.)

When people went to the site, they’d tell me, “I can’t find the material on your website. It doesn’t scroll.” I’d explain that you had to scroll to the right to see the rest of the material. Even with that explanation, some people couldn’t figure it out. It was just too odd, too unconventional. (In my defense, it was a purely recreational project, not intended to persuade anybody or motivate any action.)

Conventions make everything easier. When you flout the conventions, no matter how cool it is, you make everything harder.

That’s why there’s always a letter in direct mail fundraising. A letter with a salutation, a signature, a P.S. Even though it’s boring and old hat, not at all cool. Even though it’s not logically necessary to put things in the form of a letter.

When you get bored with letters and change everything so it’s cool and innovative, you force people to spend energy and time figuring out your new conventions. That’s energy and time they don’t have, or don’t care to spend on such a stupid task. No matter how cool you’ve made it, you’ve put a wall around whatever you’re trying to communicate. You might think it’s a very low, easy-to-climb wall — but it’s still a wall, and that means fewer people are going to get your message.

If you want your fundraising to work, stick to the conventions.


Comments

2 responses to “The case against innovation”

  1. Jeff – Yes, it’s important to stick with tried and true methods when they work! Unfortunately, many nonprofit aren’t seeing the benefits or results and need to get more creative and try something new. Testing different approaches on two groups is often a beneficial way of seeing what works.

  2. Jeff – Yes, it’s important to stick with tried and true methods when they work! Unfortunately, many nonprofit aren’t seeing the benefits or results and need to get more creative and try something new. Testing different approaches on two groups is often a beneficial way of seeing what works.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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