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How to turn your idea into a real-life thing – 9 lessons from the Connected Giving startup

How to turn your idea into a real-life thing – 9 lessons from the Connected Giving startup

We’re still in the thick of bringing the BIG idea of Connected Giving to life here at GivePenny, creating entirely new ways to raise money online.

After three years of incredibly hard but psychologically-rewarding work, 2018 is set to be a big year for us, with significant support and investment just around the corner. This will give us the opportunity to go from a small team working with causes to deliver a few functional (but brilliant!) ideas for how to inspire new ways to give, to the full-on and vibrant, tech-for-good platform we’ve had in our minds since 2016.

Along the way, I’ve met a lot of fundraising and innovation teams, sharing ideas for new fundraising concepts, listening to some inspiring stories about past successes (and failures!) and chewing over what the future of giving might hold in store for us all.

Getting a technology off the ground is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and along the way we’ve learned so much about what it takes to turn an idea into something tangible. It has become my life’s work and outside of my family, the thing I’m most proud of. So, for those of you with ideas you’re hoping to make a reality, in no particular order, here are nine lessons that might help.


1. Just jump

Don’t delay. If you have an idea in your mind you want out in the wild, just get on with it. From personal experience, it can feel like you’re jumping off a cliff and assembling an aircraft on the way down, but that’s how some of the best products that inspire us have been built, so just jump! Why not? Are you waiting for someone to give you permission?


2. Perfect is bad, in a good way

As Eric Ries wrote in Lean Start Up, no product needs to be perfect before you launch. In fact, releasing a product before it is finished is a golden opportunity to learn from your early supporters. Many teams develop products in isolation from the intended audience and then wonder why, after building their “Field of Dreams” no-one turns up (if you haven’t watched this movie, you will have zero idea what I’m talking about here. Before you continue reading, watch it 😀.

Early fans of a new product give some of the most profound, brutal and useful feedback you’ll ever likely receive. Let your fans guide you. They know more about what will work than you might think.


3. Do things that you can’t possibly scale, in order to scale

A lot of us strongly believe that the supporter journey is EVERYTHING. However, when bringing a new fundraising solution to life, like a virtual marathon or another unique connected giving experience (or even an entirely new giving platform, like, there can be a tendency to turn to the comfort of automation to manage that journey. This can lead to a user experience that lacks soul… and I believe that great experiences that delight people have a soul.

I’m not saying that automation can’t be used with grace to create incredible user experiences – you only have to look at early experiences using things like AirBnB to see that at work. I’m saying that the inspiration behind those delightful features can come from doing things that can’t be scaled first.

AirBnB founder, Brian Chesky, explains how he and his team were able to create a market-breaking user experience on the Masters of Scale podcast – going through a process he calls “The 11-Star Customer Experience Test”. I would urge anyone trying to create something new to go through this exercise – it can lead to some profound discoveries about what supporters of your product would really love to have – you’ll also be surprised by how much of this you can bake-in to your product!


4. Own your idea but share the load

Working harder and harder on your idea will likely get you to market, but it won’t allow you to scale it. You are but one person and whilst you are awesome, there’s only so much you can do. Leverage every last bit of support you can get from your colleagues.


5. Don’t do it for the money

If the ultimate satisfaction for your fundraising idea is all based on how much you raise, then you’re in for an even bumpier ride than you think. Search for the “why” behind your motivation. You’ll find yourself going that extra bit further to smash it out of the park, if you’re obsessed with delighting your supporters so much they effuse to all their friends and family about the journey they’re on with you. Income is almost an organic by-product of doing that.


6. Competition is a good thing

Just because someone else had a similar idea before you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t establish your own roots with yours. JustGiving introduced the world to online giving 18 years ago and it has been followed by a few other brands looking to offer similar services, largely competing on price. Despite JustGiving’s obvious market dominance, the likes of Virgin Money Giving and BT MyDonate have their own fans, as well.

That hasn’t stopped GivePenny carving out our own modest fanbase for our innovative brand of Connected Giving in a short space of time. You could argue that without competition, platforms like JustGiving and GivePenny wouldn’t exist as they are today.

Learn from your competition. There’s nothing wrong with being similar. People like to hear a whisper of difference in the pillow of the familiar.


7. Be present where your fans are

Your audience is always changing. If you don’t appreciate that, you’re behind already. Learning about where your existing supporters are and where your new supporters might be coming from in the future (online and offline) and making the effort to be present in those environments, communities and platforms goes a long way.

As part of my travels through the meeting rooms of Top 100 charities to present GivePenny’s Connected Giving ideas, more than once I’ve had to explain to charity innovation teams what Twitch is, sometimes to the point where I feel like I’m pitching Twitch to them, when Twitch really doesn’t need any help with that 😀.

I’ve even been told by people at some of those Top 100 charities (in no uncertain terms) that their “supporters won’t be into anything like that,”, which is crazy.

When you consider that has created a social network for gamers that attracts over 100 million people to it on a monthly basis and charities with a desired target demographic of Generation X and Millennials have no idea what it is, that feels INSANE.


8. Be prepared to run through walls. Thick ones

From personal experience, making something from nothing takes a commitment level I never knew I had. People you pitch your idea to will talk it down, you’ll get outright refusal to engage from others. It’s likely that if you ask your intended audience what they want, the bulk of them will answer “the status quo, please” – but then many of us would have taken the next Blackberry as the best mobile device if we were asked in late 2008 – then Steve Jobs showed us the iPhone and now we wonder how we can cope without a smartphone with no keyboard.

If, after months of pulling together ideas, holding meetings and garnering support you feel like giving up, then that’s precisely when you should accelerate (just ask Sir James Dyson what he thinks about that – he’ll tell you from his own experience of revolutionising the vacuum cleaner market that his success is largely down to moments when he knuckled down when faced with adversity). Grit your teeth and power through because the sense of fulfilment that comes from releasing an amazing product far
outweighs being caught in a tailwind of negativity.


9. Live in the moment

It’s right to focus on your goals as you go through the process of creating something amazing (sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps you going). However, becoming oblivious to what is going on around you as you pinball your way towards your goals is a sin. You learn so much from the journey itself compared to what you get from eventually reaching the finish line. Drink it all in.

There’s a good chance that at least something from the lessons above will help some of you as you breathe life into your own ideas. Above it all though, remember to make it fun 😀.

Much love,
Lee Clark


Lee Clark is Co-Founder, CEO, Chief FUN-Raiser and Idea Ninja at

GivePenny is a tech-for-good startup, building the number one Connected Giving platform. We’re on a mission to develop new ways to inspire giving through connecting the world’s favourite apps, wearable technology and websites to delightful fundraising experiences. Charities and other good causes can find out more about GivePenny

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