Published: 9 November 2011

Digital Snapshot 2011: How are charities communicating digitally?

Digital communications are taking a more central role in all charities, according to a live survey conducted at the CharityComms 2011 Digital Communications Conference.

In almost all cases the results, compared to a similar survey undertaken in 2010, showed the growing importance of digital.

Three key themes emerged from the survey.

1. What’s the rationale for digital?

Delegates recognised that digital costs money, whether directly or because of resources and time. It is encouraging to see that this money is being spent within a strategic context, with 69% of delegates having a strategy for digital comms. However, 31% do not have a digital strategy, and I wonder whether they can clearly identify the return on investment for their online activity?

I cannot highlight enough the importance of strategy. Organisations that operate within a clear and simple strategic framework, with defined KPIs, see clear benefits:

  1. The strategy ensures that they focus on why they are using digital, which enables them to focus their time efficiently.
  2. By using a strategy, it is significantly easier to communicate the benefits of digital throughout an organisation, which in turn ensures greater support and budget. 
  3. By being clear on what digital is doing, it's easier to communicate to colleagues what it is not for – and explain why they cannot have something on the homepage!

Strategies do require time to develop, an issue clearly recognised among delegates; 17% of delegates say that their main constraint in digital is lack of time to develop a clear strategy.

However, a digital strategy does not need to be a hefty, time-consuming document; it can start with a set of KPIs to be reviewed on a regular basis. Examples include: increasing traffic from partner websites, increasing sign ups, increasing click-through rates from search, what appears in search results. It may even be a social media KPI, for example, having 3+ comments for every post on Facebook.

2. Where do digital priorities lie?

Website remains king within charities. When asked "which communication format is most important for communicating with external stakeholders?", respondants put websites in the lead, with a mean score of 1.84 out of 5 (where 1 was most important and 5 least important), followed closely by email at 1.94, with mobile languishing in bottom place with a mean score of 3.73, below social media (2.38) and both telephone and direct mail (2.63).

I expect to see this website dominance alter over the next few years, replaced with social media, email, mobile, and even partnerships. Your website relies on stakeholders finding it and thus the number of people who are not being communicated with is significant (ie all those not looking for you). Other digital channels, particularly email and social media, seek out the stakeholder, rather than them seeking out you.

Of course, an excellent website is vital; it is the foundation for all other digital activity. But how much is it powering content around the web? How much of it is presented on your social media pages or emailed to stakeholders?

3. The rise of mobile?

A number of the presentations on the day discussed the increased usage of mobile, and what this may or may not mean for charities. It is encouraging to see that many delegates are already engaging in mobile. The shock, however, is that apps are more dominant than a mobile site. Only 8% of delegates had a mobile site but over 21% had apps!

The number of people browsing sites through mobile is rapidly increasing – although the same cannot be said for traffic to apps.

If we look at our clients as a whole, traffic from mobile devices hovers around 8%, but this is growing, and increases further if mobile sites are available. Apps, however, are not seeing the same increases, and prove very expensive for charities to develop and to market. Often, we struggle to see why an app is better than a mobile site, so our advice is to always ensure there is a very clear reason to develop an app before making any investment.

Download the full Digital Comms Snapshot.


Jonathon Simmons, managing director, Public Zone