Three simple questions have helped launched ideas as important as the Red Cross’ Blood Donor System and the home defibrillator. And they may also be the three most important questions you can ask yourself before launching a new event fundraising initiative: What does our target audience desire? What is technically and organizationally feasible? And, what can be financially viable?

They are the foundation of a process I blogged about last week called design thinking or human-centered design. The method is build around the idea that all innovations ultimately come from a struggle between three perspectives: desirability, feasibility, and viability. 

According to IDEO, one of the key developers of the human-centered design (HCD) process, the method is called “human-centered” is because it starts with the people we are designing for. It begins by examining the needs, dreams, and behaviors of the people we want to affect with our solutions (the desirability lens). For example, Honda’s innovative rethink of the pickup truck didn’t come from market research reports, but from Saturday mornings spent in the parking lot of Home Depot watching people load things into their cars.

Once we have identified a range of what is desirable, we begin to view our events through the lenses of what is technically and organizationally feasible, and what is financially viable.

Innovation needs to happen at the intersection of desirability, viability, and feasibility, according to IDEO’s Diego Rodriguez.  Rodriguez says these three elements make up the legs of a proverbial stool called “it’ll work in the world.”  Too many event fundraising initiatives focus on only one or two, much to their detriment.  For example, creating something without regard for its feasibility out in the world is not unlike designing an event route without regard to unpredictability of weather: it might work, but the likelihood of it being a reliable, safe, means of transport will be greatly diminished.  And while it might be tempting to “really be creative” by ignoring constraints, a wiser approach is to view constraints as liberating. 

Look at fundraising events like the Komen 3-Day for the Cure, the Jimmy Fund Walk, or the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and you’ll see desirability, viability, and feasibility all coexisting in a glorious symphony enabled by constraints.

Do your fundraising events pass the desirability, feasibility, and viability test?

To learn more about HCD, I’d encourage you to check out IDEO’s PDF toolkit on design thinking.  Fair warning, it’s 200 pages, but it does include a more accessible field guide at the end.

Jono Smith is vice president of marketing at Event 360. You can find Jono on Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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