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Digital Conference 2020: lessons to learn from

4 December 2020

The world around us is constantly changing and, in order to keep up with it, the ability to adapt and evolve is essential. Never has this been more evident than in the last few months when the pandemic has shown how important adapting is in helping and engaging audiences on their own terms.

A big part of this adapting process has been rooted in digital. So, in honour of that CharityComms turned their digital conference into a three-day extravaganza dedicated to providing tips and advice that delegates could try for themselves.

Here’s what we learnt about the changing face of charity digital…

Day 1 – Digital leadership and strategy

One theme resounded loud and clear when discussing the topic of leadership and strategy and that was – be agile.

What does this mean in practice? For Save the Children it meant adopting short learning cycles, creating minimum viable products, and embracing multidisciplinary teams to ensure activities were quickly refocused in the pandemic for the benefit of their audiences. While at St Barnabas Lincolnshire it’s been about pivoting online in a way that makes campaigns, activities, and asks as easy and accessible as possible while also making use of resources already at their disposal.

Echoing the agile message were speakers from the Scouts who kicked off with the reassuring message that digital transformation is “not complicated, it’s just hard”, and The Bike Project urged us all to “be brave and take risks”. Sharing how they pivoted in the last few months to reach new audiences in lockdown with virtual friendly projects like #RaceAroundTheWorld the Scouts championed the use of short sprints to deliver and test new ideas at speed. While The Bike Project took the opportunity to dive into their existing insights and use powerful storytelling to help them create #RefugeeRoutes – a whole new virtual fundraising platform in just three weeks.

Other top takeaways from day 1 to help all of those working through digital leadership and strategy included…

  • Parkinson’s UK’s Julie Dodd’s advice that we need to start with the fundamentals as digital should be embedded in everything from culture and infrastructure to data and ways of working.

  • Zoe Amar reminding us all of the importance of thinking about and reviewing our digital strategies so that we can constantly review how we’re doing and use that when thinking about user needs.

  • Citizens Online’s Bryan Rossi-Anderson highlighting the importance of thinking about digital inclusion and thinking about how we can collectively combat barriers to this by considering issues of connectivity and the role that human interaction plays.

  • Zoe Guy from YoungMinds’ rallying call to see comms as more than just a function and recognise it’s role as a key service that provides interaction as well as information.


Day 2 – Marketing and comms

When it comes to marketing and comms a clear priority that emerged from the conference talks is the need to find ways to ensure our content is diverse and inclusive.

Panelists Cara English from Gendered Intelligence, Ivy Lahon of Save the Children UK, Rachel Erskine from Amref Health Africa – UK, Fatima Ribeiro of Comic Relief and Mencap’s Sarah Fitsell and Harry Roche all had great tips to share on this and here are just a few:

  • Have an accessibility champion who will help you put accessibility and inclusion at the heart of all what your charity does
  • Embed those with lived experience in your comms and let those with lived experiences share their stories their way, don’t just reinforce stereotypes
  • Make sure people sharing their stories with you know how and when their image and story is being circulated
  • Think about framing and be clear and concise with what you communicate
  • Charities can learn from each other – it’s not a competition

Another core issue that resonated with delegates at the event was how to handle a social media crisis. NSPCC’s James Barker and Lizzie Carse helpfully shared the analogy of a stress bucket to highlight the importance of recognising the impact these types of crises can have on your team. As well as sharing tips on how to support colleagues through such a crisis they also spotlighted the need for reflection as to how/why such a crisis may have occurred.

Day 3 – Digital fundraising

Above all day three of the conference left us with the message ‘Test and learn’.

Faced with an unprecedented situation like corona it has never been more important than now to be brave enough to try new things. It is only by testing and learning from what works and what doesn’t that we can be sure we are providing everything our audiences need – and when it comes to fundraising it is also arguably about survival.

A panel chaired by Anthony Nolan’s Terence Lovell took a deep dive into how the future looks for charity fundraising with Terence noting “The pandemic has given us the kick up the backside we needed in unlocking the potential of digital fundraising”.

Panellists Davinia Batley from Become, Marja Moller from Shelter UK, Deniz Hassan from the World Food Programme, Sam Afhim from Freedom from Torture and Avin Wong from Tearfund clearly agreed and gave us lots to think about. Here’s some snippets:

  • Virtual events have emerged and evolved during lockdown and we should consider how these will continue as part of charity activity in future
  • There’s now a need to design for digital-first and mobile optimisation
  • Digital gives opportunities to be more accessible – embrace them
  • An audience-led approach has been vital in these uncertain times
  • Creativity is booming through embracing things like gamification, quizzes, and other interactive content – useful tools to consider when thinking about your charity brand awareness and when engaging and promoting information about causes.
  • Use this new situation to test out and try new ways of bringing audiences closer.

Clearly with the Digital Conference being a three-day event this year, this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the amazing learnings our wide array of speakers shared. So, if you missed out on the live-action, or just fancy going back and rewatching something again head over to our on demand page now and find out how.

Image: fotografierende on Unsplash

Christine Fleming

Head of digital content, CharityComms

Christine is the head of digital content at CharityComms in charge of the commissioning and editing of all content on the site as well as leading on the project management of the new look best practice guides. A former journalist with a background in online news, she has a masters in Global Media and Transnational Communications and is passionate about comms and helping charity communications thrive.