From good ideas to social good: How charities approach innovation processes

A case study on the use of innovation and new product development processes in UK charities



As charities look for ways to improve products and services, and new approaches to tackling social issues they are increasingly turning to innovation as a means of managing and achieving change. This study serves as an exploration into four UK charities with innovation teams and uses the resultant commonalities to build a theoretical model for comparing similar charities by their approach to developing innovations that are incremental improvements or radical new developments, and are strategic organisational or social innovations tackling social and environmental issues.


In order to understand what motivates charities to innovate, how innovation processes are implemented, and how the success of innovation is judged, representatives from the innovation teams of four UK charities took part in semi-structure surveys. The results were combined via a cross-case analysis from which a theoretical model was developed to enable each charity’s approach to innovation to be compared to known theoretical constructs and thus understood in new ways.


The application of the Charity Innovation Model to the four charities that participated in the research showed that all charities are approaching innovation as a means to achieve incremental improvements to strategic innovation, meaning that innovations are not developed to tackle social issues in new or different ways but to add to the existing ways in the charity seeks to tackle the issue.


This study adds to the sparse literature on innovation in charities by exploring the motivations to innovate, implementation of innovation processes, and ways of judging the success of innovations and using these as a means to compare charity’s approach to innovation within a model of incremental/radical and strategic/social innovation. Innovation in charities is a new and emerging discipline and as such requires new models to improve and deepen understanding.