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


The UK charity sector consists of approximately 168,000 organisations, with an annual income of £81bn (Charity Commission, 2020), employing 909,000 people along with 19.4m volunteers (NCVO, 2020). The sector is diverse and defies simple definition, ranging from charities with hundred million pound income to charities run entirely by a small group of volunteers. What they share is a motivation to tackle the most pressing and challenging social issues, and almost always whilst facing challenging circumstances that make innovation purely a dream for most charities.

In seeking to understand how charities with dedicated innovation teams approach and manage innovation and new product/service development, this study looked at six well-known innovation processes in order to develop a definition of an innovation process and then an understanding of the phases necessary for creating a successful innovation process. The clarity of this understanding was used in designing the research to gain insights into what motivates charities to innovate, how they implement innovation processes, and how they judge the success of innovation.

There is a lack of research into innovation in charities and this study demonstrates the need for new theories that take account of the social value aims of charities rather than applying only the logic of commercial innovation when understanding how charity innovation can be effective. This paper presents insights from research into the innovation processes at four major UK charities and utilises them in developing case studies and building theory appropriate for developing new models that add to the body of knowledge about innovation in charities.