Three ways to channel your inner Bowie

One of the many techniques to be found in Lucy Gower’s fantastic new book, The Innovation Workout, is a method for generating ideas called Someone Else’s Idea.

I’ve often used this technique over the years because it jolts you out of your prevailing mode of thinking. The gist is that you focus your attention on someone very different to yourself and ask yourself what they would do to solve your current challenge.

With my attention last week repeatedly drawn to the incomparable life and times of David Bowie, I found myself asking this question: ‘as fundraisers seeking to do our very best, what success secrets could we learn from David Bowie?’ Here are three which occurred to me:

  1. Help your supporters feel understood

Clearly people loved Bowie for many different reasons, but one theme that has come across in what so many people have said this week is that they felt he understood them, and his songs spoke directly to them. Today I heard one caller to a radio station saying that ‘he made it ok to be me, to be different from the people around me.’

As the influence expert Blair Warren advises, there is nothing so powerful as feeling understood. We warm to those we feel are our kindred spirits, they help us feel validated.

Blair Warren’s One Sentence Persuasion suggests that people will do anything for those who ‘…encourage their dreams, allay their fears… confirm their suspicions and help them throw rocks at their enemies’.

When you write or talk to your supporters, do not try to appeal to everybody. Do not sit on the fence. Know who your charity is and who your supporters are…help them feel like kindred spirits. Through your mission, your attitude and your words, help them ‘throw rocks at their enemies’.

  1. Be playful, be yourself

Several commentators who have spent time with Bowie have said he was great company, partly because he was so playful. A key risk to fundraising success in those who are new to the profession is that of trying to hide your real self. There is strong pull to be on your best behaviour, to try to fit in, not mess up, to say the right thing with both colleagues and donors.

This is entirely understandable, and yet if you recognise it, I would advise you to find the confidence to let the protective mask fade away sooner rather than later. It may not be immediate, but as you allow this to happen, you will find that not only is work much more fun, but most donors (even important ones) will find you more interesting to talk (and say ‘yes’) to. Apart from anything else, the tone you speak and write with will become less formal and more real, like when you communicate at your best with your friends.

  1. Relentlessly innovate

Bowie was a master of re-invention. If we are to serve our beneficiaries and raise even more money, we must acknowledge how fast the world is changing. It is essential we make the time to try new and better ways to do things.

For example, in his thought-provoking report, In Good Company and at the corporate fundraising Special Interest Group recently, Joe Saxton observed that most corporate fundraising is incredibly bland and samey, with most partnerships fitting into the same patterns as have been used for decades.

I am well aware that trying new things often feels difficult. This is made even harder by the risk-averse cultures of many charities…and yet if David Bowie was advising us I imagine he’d suggest we dare to try new things anyway. Every day we need to remember that life is short. What different tactic (that you feel must be worth trying, but you have been putting off) could you do today?
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