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Fundraising Idea of the Month:

by Doug Nash

To fully utilize the collective intelligence and experience of your organisation and thus produce options that make the most of your group's capabilities.

Brainstorming is a tool deliberately used in commercial organisations to improve either the organisation, their market performance or their product. Rarely though is this valuable and versatile tool deliberately nor effectively used in non-profit organisations. Everyone and every organisation, profit and non-profit uses brainstorming! Everytime you ask for advice or feedback you are in effect brainstorming. Whenever one person asks another for their opinion, input or suggestion they are brainstorming. This is a shame, for brainstorming is a very useful tool and it is as cheap or expensive as you chose it to be. What also is underestimated is the amount of fun it can be, not to mention rewarding.

So what is this tool? Brainstorming is the process used to tap the latent knowledge and insights of those who make up an organisation to improve products, services, procedures or processes of an organisation.

Brainstorming is an expand/contract based idea management plan. First you expand your options and possibilities by promoting creative input, then you contract this list into the most viable and potentially successful ideas. After this you expand the list of options of converting these ideas into possible plans of action, then contract this list into a definite plan, product or process. After each level of expansion and contraction you are in a better position than before. You repeat the cycle as many times as you choose to until you arrive at your preset goal.

It is a process that can be used to advantage the organisation in many and varied ways. Not only does the organisation benefit, those involved also profit by feeling listened to, appreciated, valued, that they are an integral part of the organisation.

You can even brainstorm on how to brainstorm or how to brainstorm better. Brainstorming creates an environment to foster raw ideas and then mold them into profitable outcomes like new or improved products, process or ways of working together to achieve a common goal. This process can be aimed at any part of your organisation and in various ways. Ways limited only to your imagination and flexibility. For example, say you brainstorm for new fundraising ideas, you can then brainstorm for the best ways to implement the idea, then brainstorm for the best way to promote the idea and so it goes. Each step helps you to improve your efficiency or widen your scope of operations. All this simply by better use of a resource that you already possessed.

When is the best time to use brainstorming? Brainstorming basis is already happening inside your organisation on a regular so it makes sense to put it on a basis to make the most of it. Now is the best time to use it. Now is the best time to put this valuable tool to the best use and the way to do this is to formally recognize the process and to incorporate it into your organization's culture and routine.

If you accept that it does not matter what you do, it can always be done better, then you are on the path to better and more effective fundraising. Brainstorming will assist you greatly in this aim.

You don't need to lock yourself up in a tropical hideaway to brainstorm. You can do it informally around the drink fountain to a special weekend assembly. In a member's backyard or in the chairman's office. You can do it anywhere that insures a peaceful atmosphere free of interruptions. Once the ball is rolling you need to avoid interruptions and distractions.

You should select your people from three groups. Those experienced in your field who implement or carry out your current activities, decision makers in your organisation and those who can offer something thing different to the proceedings, e.g. an expert in grant applications or public relations. Do not have too large a group until you have some experience in these sessions.

The team sets the criteria on what points an idea must match to proceed or be dropped so at preset time in the future decisions can be made clearly. The team also sets guidelines on what area is to be focused on so the process will not wander or deviate off the purpose of the session. At the end of the session this team will decide on what is to be put to the members and why, Depending on the setup of your organisation they might even have the authority to implement the results of the session.

Don't be afraid to eject anyone who is a disruptive influence. The worst things that can happen to a brainstorming session is having members bullied or attacked out of participating or having one person take over the session to promote only their ideas.

Brainstorming is a team effort, so try to ensure that the people can work in a team environment. This doesn't mean you everyone to be clones but you do want a variety of people and personalities so long as they are team players.

If you get it right by involving the right people at the right time throughout the process you will be well rewarded for your efforts.

Here are some suggested points for you to consider when setting up a brainstorming session.

  • The prime rule to be displayed "debate the idea not the person". No-one is to praise or criticize any idea until the proper time.
  • First clarify a topic and the objectives of the sessions.
  • Decide on the criteria that ideas must meet at the end of the session for further consideration.
  • Each member must contribute at least one idea for consideration.
  • Have a designated person record all ideas on whiteboard or flip chart, positioned so all can clearly see it.
  • Have an appointed umpire or referee who does not participate in the session except to guide and keep the meeting moving and positive. He can also time keep if a preset time limit is in effect.
  • Continue until team has exhausted ideas, don't stop on a roll.
  • Submit ideas only in turn. Member may "pass" if they have no idea at their turn. Members can only submit one idea at a time.
  • Make sure all have pens and paper to record thoughts.
  • Issue an agenda and brainstorming brief at least one week before session's start time to all participants.
  • The brainstorming brief must be concise but as comprehensive as possible, specifying only minimal constraints on the scope of thinking.
  • If it's not possible to work as individuals the try creating small teams that are treated as individuals.

Follow up on all ideas and suggestions.

So now you have a better understanding on the how-to and benefits of brainstorming. There are definite advantages to implementing some formal methods so the brainstorming that is already happening in your organisation is fully utilised. It is for you to chose what that formality is.


About the Author:

Doug Nash lives in Logan City in Queensland, Australia. He has graciously consented to share a fundraising idea with us every month. Although many of the ideas aren't new, each of them has a unique flair that comes from being developed and refined half a world away from ours. Visit his web site at for more fundraising ideas.

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