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Seizing digital opportunities does not mean shaking an online tin

While we have seen some truly innovative campaigns from charities in recent years, Joe Saxton is largely correct in saying that the third sector has been slow in embracing the digital revolution. However, I am not convinced by his statement that problems persist because few people wake up with ‘donating’ on their morning to-do list. In my opinion this is the wrong way for charities to approach digital strategy and an incorrect starting point when creating a meaningful, enduring supporter experience.

Many charities have struggled with digital precisely because they have seen online channels primarily as an avenue for fundraising.  When the essence of a charity’s digital strategy essentially consists of “shaking an online tin”, a huge disservice is done to those whom the charity seeks to serve, as well as supporters.

Instead, charities must use digital channels to reflect their organisation’s aims and activities, not just their news. This is happening in small pockets – a notable example is CoppaFeel’s “Digital Boob Team”, who use digital channels to reach millions of people with educational messages around self checks for breast cancer.

Secondly, charities need to see digital channels as an opportunity to forge strong, ongoing relationships with their natural supporters. Digital provides an unrivalled, personalised environment to touch the heart of supporters and invoke longstanding relationships – all through the devices and channels that the supporter chooses to use. I work across charity and film marketing campaigns and believe there’s much for the third sector can learn from the film industry here. Yes the budgets often differ wildly, but movie marketers approach a campaign looking to connect with personalisation and create deep, meaningful engagement that will sustain a campaign from initial announcement to theatrical release and even beyond to DVD release. Many charities digitally promote events such as bike rides, marathons and sponsored walks, but haven’t been successful in following up to convert these events into ongoing relationships.

In my experience, the call to action, whether this involves donations or support, is far more natural and successful when it is sensitively integrated into a well thought-through and balanced digital offering that puts the cause and relationships first, and the “ask” second. Offering web users the opportunity to support work locally is much more effective than a “Donate” button slapped onto the menu of a website.

Digital strategy should also be embraced as a tremendous opportunity to deal with upcoming changes in the third sector. Opt-in regulation changes should be a catalyst for improved engagement with a smaller number of heavily-engaged natural supporters. Our shifting demographic also presents challenges and opportunities – the baby boomer generation, relied on by many charities for support, are now in the main very technically savvy. Millennials, the first generation of ‘digital natives’, have been traditionally harder to engage with, but charities can unlock this new army of advocates by creating meaningful and enduring online campaigns.

The third sector has been slow to adapt to changes in the online world, but I expect this to change rapidly as charities recognise the importance of aligning digital with their overall organisation. Given the powerful winds of change currently blowing through the sector, a progressive approach to digital is no longer simply a nice option but a necessity for the modern, successful charity.

Tim Redgate is the creator of EchoMany, the personalised video marketing platform, and the co-founder of Redberry Digital

  • Colin McGregor-Paterson

    We at theOasis Partnership are embracing digital, although not by rattling the online tin, digital for us, is a lot more than just about raising funds. The potential digital offers within our sector is huge. Our new 28 page digital strategy sets out our plans for a digital future, which is only just beginning. (our website is still not mobile friendly – yet)
    Charities are apparently 50% behind other sectors when it comes to digital, (according to TS) Charity leaders need to first understand digital before they can see the opportunities it offers now and in the future – it can be a scary place…with new words to get our heads around… millennials, generation Y, generation Z, digital natives…alongside an overwhelming amount of reports and guidance, social media sites – Information overload!
    It could be very easy to switch off ‘digital’ and bury your heads in the sand – ‘haven’t we got enough to do without learning something new ?’ – and ’emails are the bane of our lives already. Why would we do more?
    But those charities that do not see the benefits/potential of digital will be the ones that are unlikely to be around in the future.
    Embrace it – its an exciting new world we live in.
    To get me to this point of excitement- i have to admit i am doing a digital diploma with the Academy of Digital Business Leaders. (theadbl.com) which has transformed my thinking and reignited my motivation.

  • Many sectors ( including accounting ) have been slow to adapt to online changes. But there is a whole world of opportunity opening up in terms of digital solutions inside their organisation. – “Evolve or become extinct” as the saying goes. Thanks for posting – Mike (Accountant in Scunthorpe)