The UK charity sector has been under fire in the news this year- with media anger over the scare tactics used by outsourced fundraising companies, the targeting of vulnerable people to raise money and along with stricter legislation over contacting potential donors, it’s no wonder many charities may be thinking about how they can use other methods to raise funds.

By using digital, charities can have more control over how they are carrying out their marketing, ensuring methods are ethical whilst creating a sense of trust and honesty for their audience. Charities can also reach a far wider audience online than is possible with traditional offline fundraising, with the potential for a far higher return on their investment.

In the last few years we have seen a huge boost in charities’ use of various digital platforms to spread the word on the charity’s work and to raise money. Surprisingly though, one in five charities still do not have the facilities to accept online donations. In spite of this the majority do agree that the amount of people donating in this way is only going to get bigger, and half of charities feel they are not making the most of online fundraising.

The first step for most charities will be to make sure their site is fantastic – creating a great user experience geared towards the target audience, and making it as easy as possible to donate is essential. But how else can charities boost their digital presence in order to create a larger network of potential donors?

Create engaging content

Amnesty international trail by timeline charity digital marketing

Some of the most successful campaigns in recent years have removed the focus solely from fundraising, and shifted it towards spreading the message of the charity, using engaging and interactive content to create meaningful experiences for the user. For example, the 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ site e3 created for the National Trust used digital to get children outdoors and visiting the National Trust locations. The Amnesty International Trial by Timeline created a hard-hitting and personalised experience for its users, drilling home the charities message about the impact of freedom of speech. In the app My Life as a Refugee from the UNHCR, users take an interactive journey, needing to make quick decisions based on tough situations a refugee could find themselves in daily. These campaigns get people talking and thinking about the causes involved, and ultimately get people donating too.

Go viral

ASL fundraising charity ice bucket challenge

Campaigns such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the #nomakeupselfie for Cancer Research have been game-changing in the charity sector – they had widespread impact, raising huge amounts of money, and generating a great deal of media interest. These campaigns have raised expectations about the potential of online fundraising among charities, and whilst the successes of these campaigns is clear, a viral campaign is something that can be tricky to plan for. All charities can do is be prepared for when an opportunity arises. Sometimes, there can be a danger that people feel pressured to take part when they would rather not – how many people would have rather been able to donate without getting soaked in ice cold water? A lesson to take away from this is when a charity has a campaign that’s gone viral, they should think about how to include those who are opting out of the trend.

Sharing is caring?

Social strategy has never been more important for a successful charity campaign. Knowing who your audience is and selecting the right channel to appeal to them, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram, is paramount.

The popularity of many viral social media campaigns undoubtedly comes in part from people’s desire to share their support, which creates a sense of community for those who are involved. Many campaigns have drawn upon this – Macmillan’s ‘snapping their support’ on their Cancer – time to choose platform being a great example. With a successful digital campaign that encourages users to connect and share the content with one another, the audience become ambassadors for the charity, spreading word about their work. Movements such as Movember, Stoptober and Go Sober for October have also had huge success drawing upon the proactive ‘get involved’ attitude, and with sites like Justgiving it’s getting much easier to donate to these online.

Although campaigns like these undoubtedly increase small one-off donations and reach groups which have previously been difficult to engage in charity such as millennials, it has also been suggested that when the direct interaction between the charity and the individual is removed, the emotional involvement is reduced and therefore so is the engagement the user has with the charity. Over half of charities asked feel that online fundraising is impersonal, and many reported it to be difficult to build a relationship with online donors. A key point is for charities to think about how these campaigns can encourage regular donations rather than only one-off.

An issue that can arise even from a very popular social media campaign is that many of the audience feel that just liking a page is enough to make a difference. As demonstrated in Unicef Sweden’s Likes Don’t Save Lives campaign, which hit out at ‘slacktivism’, if the social engagement doesn’t translate into funds or any real changes then the campaign has not necessarily been a success. Ensuring there is a strong message that donations are needed to continue the good work of the charity is essential to a successful campaign.

Can apps save lives?

St. John's ambulance app charity digital

Maybe most significantly, some charities have also recognised that digital can be used to carry out the work of the charity too. For example, the Breast Cancer Now’s breast checker app, the British Heart foundation’s app which teaches users how to give CPR, St. Johns Ambulance app gives first aid advice and GoodSam matches users with local trained first aiders in an emergency. These apps have the chance to save lives - in this way charities can reach a potentially huge number of people with their work, and this ultimately means the money users do give can reach further.

So where from here?

For charities looking to boost their digital presence, the first step should be to get the website right. As the ‘digital shop window’ for the charity, it is an opportunity to showcase great work, highlight values and encourage people to donate. Ensure there is a clear strategy based around the goals of the charity and figure out who the audience are. Think about creating engaging and meaningful content that drills home the message of the charity, getting people sharing and talking about the issues involved. Finally, for the charity to be able to reach the broadest amount of people with its work, look at ways of using digital to carry out the work of the charity too.

It needs to be kept in mind though that where digital is a perfect platform to be engaging a huge amount of people in charity, both to take part and donate, there certain demographics of older people that are warm to regular charity giving yet are difficult to engage in digital. Maybe charities will be able to bridge this gap to engage older audiences– in the meantime, however, to appeal to these groups traditional offline fundraising techniques will still need to be employed. But methods must always be pressure-free - giving to charity should always be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. 

If you want to find out more about how we work with charities to make them digital wizards, click here.