Toddler Syndrome – Why your charity needs it.

“Successful Charities have Data Teams with Toddler Syndrome”

If you have ever spent more than three minutes with a toddler it is extremely likely that they will have asked you the short and sweet question, ‘Why?’

Toddlers are learning about their world, testing boundaries and have no fear or filters when asking questions (I recently overheard a toddler on a bus pointing at a well-built gentleman ask her mum, “Mummy why is that man so FAT?” The mum was mortified, the other people on the bus found it hysterical and embarrassing in equal measure and the well-built gentlemen was apparently deaf).

Just to be clear, toddler syndrome is not a licence to offend other people. It is the fearless ability and energy to keep asking ‘Why?’. To challenge ‘the way things are done round here’, in order to continuously seek out a better or more effective way of doing things.

Have you ever got to the end of a fundraising project and thought, ‘If only we had asked them x,’ or ‘I wish we’d thought about y,’ or ‘Wouldn’t it have been great if we had known z’.

I know I have.

Because we are always up against deadlines and conflicting priorities it can be hard to take a step back and really think deeply about the best way to do an activity.

We don’t ask enough questions. Either because we are too busy, or we assume that our questions are not welcome or that we simply don’t have permission to ask.

If you work in fundraising, whether that is speaking to donors directly, running events or providing support services, we have a great responsibility to work together to maximise our income. If we don’t challenge the status quo and ask ‘Why?’ more, we are simply not doing the best for our beneficiaries or for our supporters, who trust us to use their donations as effectively as possible.

Often we can feel that we don’t know enough about a fundraising area to ask meaningful questions. That is entirely the point. When we know less about a topic, we have a different perspective and it’s our different viewpoint that enables us to ask questions that people fully immersed in the topic are simply not able to ask. Like the person seconded to a supporter care team at a large children’s charity, who asked why, when a supporter upgraded their monthly Direct Debit it took a month to process the increase. Their simple question initiated a change in process, which increased income by £150,000 in that financial year, which meant that more money could be spent on services and more children were helped.

Toddler syndrome is not just reserved for charities; many corporate organisations recognize the value of asking simple questions as part of their business development strategy. Let me share an example from Southwest Airlines.

Some years ago Southwest Airlines ran a programme that included people from in-flight, ground, maintenance and dispatch operations. For six months they met for 10 hours a week, brainstorming ideas to address the broad issue: ‘What are the highest-impact changes we can make to our aircraft operations?’

At the end of the six months the group presented 109 ideas to senior management, three of which involved sweeping operational changes. Chief Information Officer Tom Nealon said that the diversity of the people on the team was crucial, mentioning one director from the airline’s schedule planning division in particular. “He had almost a naive perspective, his questions were so fundamental they challenged the guys that had worked at the airline for the last 30 years.”

So next time you are starting on a new project, don’t just accept the usual way of doing things. Unleash your inner toddler and keep asking ‘Why?’ until you have found the best way you can to tackle the project.

Let us know how you get on.

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