Most of us have been there; a colleague, a boss, a tutor… someone takes credit for an idea we had. It’s so common that the anecdotal evidence of people in junior / mid positions saying they feel grateful to a boss for publicly giving them credit for their own ideas is far too high.
If it’s happened to you too often, you’ve probably started being a bit careful about how and when you share your ideas. You hold back in brainstorming meetings, you keep an idea to yourself until you’ve formed it properly, you consider more carefully how and when you share.
But what happens when it happens to a company, or an organisation, or a charity? The corporate world cottoned on to the importance of intellectual property a long time ago. We hardly even notice the tiny TM next to brand names anymore. Corporate espionage is a huge game and privacy is taken seriously.
Not so much in the third sector.
Small charities and arts organisations often rely on trusts and foundations to fund their ideas and projects. The time it takes to get an idea off the ground can be long and arduous.
In that time, you might be expected to develop partnerships. If you’re a small charity a partnership may seem the best way of making sure things happen. You’ll get better reach, better funding, better publicity. So you meet with people, with companies, with organisations. You share your ideas, your vision, your outcomes. You write down your pitch.
Then you write your funding bid. You have to describe your project in detail. You discuss methodology, you pin down how you will evaluate, you show how you’ve worked out your costs by providing 2 quotes for every £ you’ve included in your budget. You show what success looks like, you prove the research you’ve done that shows the need for your project.
In short, you provide a handbook for your project. People who can make it happen, easy links, methods, ideas, outcomes, outputs. And you hand it over without a second thought about the ownership of that idea.
Until your funding bid is turned down and 6 months, a year, 2 years later, something very and disconcertingly similar is being run or created. It’s your vision. It’s your planned outcome. It might even be your location.
How many funding bodies think about intellectual property? How many of them reference it in their submission guidelines? How many are explicit about it with their employees? How many charities or arts organisations discuss it with the numerous partners and potential partners they are meeting with? You don’t usually have an agreement in place with someone you’re having an opening meeting with. How many freelancers write the intellectual property into their contracts?
These are basic things we should all be doing in the sector. Because intellectual property is a little more important than simple etiquette.
The impact this neglect has can be huge. In extreme cases it could shut down a smaller organisation, because the funding streams or possibility of sustainable income disappear along with the project. Even without such an extreme outcome, the credit for good ideas is given elsewhere, the impact on staff morale is tangible, and the reputational hit you take is not insignificant. Those who knew about your project think you weren’t big enough, robust enough or strong enough to deliver on it yourself, and those who didn’t know it was your idea will never credit you with having it.