Published: 12 February 2016

Digital trends can have a unique impact on charities

Image: CharityComms digital trends seminar

Digital technology is disrupting every sector that stands in its path. It has changed how we travel, how we watch TV, how we communicate with our friends, how we pay for goods and services, and how we listen to music. 

Most trends are not specific to any one sector, of course: the increase in mobile payments and the impact of digital on the customer journey, will change how everyone does business. So what’s unique, if anything, about the impact these trends could have on charities? At the recent CharityComms digital trends event we saw that there’s a lot of change coming and it’s time to get on board.  

For one, they could offer a unique opportunity for charities to react to large-scale challenges, such as falling public trust in their fundraising practices. The blockchain, for example, provides a digital record for all transactions and allows people to see exactly where their money is being spent. So if you donate to a charity, you can see exactly how the charity spends your money. A report from the Charities Aid Foundation suggests this could revolutionise charitable giving. Damien Austin-Walker, head of digital at vInspired, also believes this could help to re-build public trust in fundraising: 

This new technology is about much more than bitcoin – this model of creating a decentralised digital record of transactions could have huge implications for online trust and transparency between a charity and its supporters.

They could also offer unique opportunities for charities to bring their supporters and beneficiaries closer together. Look to the future and virtual reality could allow charities to fully immerse supporters in the lives of their beneficiaries. The Charity: Water gala in New York last year, for example, used virtual-reality headsets to transport guests to an Ethiopian village and demonstrate how access to clean water impacts the life of a teenage girl in the village. The film cost around $100,000 to make, but it helped the charity raise $1.9 million in one night. 

The cost doesn’t have to be a barrier though. Ashleigh Adair, head of digital at Forster Communications, shared examples of organisations who have started experimenting with low-cost virtual reality solutions like Google Cardboard.  

Some trends are not new, as highlighted by Said Dajani, head of digital at Diabetes UK. Personalisation isn’t just about the tech you use or the audience you talk to, but also the content that you place in front of those segments. As it becomes more desirable for supporters to want to adjust the amount of contact they receive from charities, personalisation and insights can help inform the process. 

If charities are to truly take advantage of the opportunities these trends provide they will need to develop strategic digital partnerships. Until now charities have been largely reported to have been left-behind by digital transformation but by forming stronger partnerships and working with the digital sector charities we can turn this around. Now is the time to innovate and be brave. 

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Check out the other trends featured in the digital trends seminar.  

Mike Jenkins, managing director, Positive

Mike is founder and MD at Positive, a digital agency specialising in charity, nfp and education. He's been working with the charity sector for over 10 years, delivering hugely effective strategy, creative and technology to charities and helping them meet their organisational objectives.