It’s not hard to get digital communications folk to agree that social media is a great way to engage supporters. What’s difficult is getting fundraisers to see the value of that engagement in terms of hard cash in the face of tough targets.
A recent CharityComms networking event, organised in partnership with digital agency Cogapp, found heads of digital from around 40 of the UK’s largest charities pondering the problem of digital fundraising.
Some of the key challenges raised were around many (though by no means all) fundraisers’ attitudes to social media. That the financial opportunities from online fundraising are so small they’re not really worth bothering with, for example. Or that online funds will flood in if only we can unlock some mystical piece of killer content that forever eludes us.
Part of the problem is the nature of social media – the clue is in the name. You don‘t walk up to someone you’ve just met at a party and rattle a tin in their face. You don’t shake someone’s hand and reach for their wallet at the same time.
Solutions, like that piece of killer content, are not easily reached. But there were some great suggestions to get things moving.
• If we focus our digital activity on what we know our users want and need, online donations will increase of their own accord.
• Perhaps we need to move from creating campaigns with a donate ask attached, to embedding the donate ask at the heart of the campaign.
• If we offer too many options for action, the fundraising ask will get lost – one charity auditing their site found 20 calls to action.
• Digital thinking needs to be involved at the start of the planning process, not added on as an afterthought. Digital, as with all forms of communications, works best if we ask at the outset “what’s the objective and how can we achieve it?” rather than “I have a campaign. What digital elements can we create?”
The final point goes to the heart of the matter. There's a difference between just tacking on a digital element to some offline activity, and creating a truly digital fundraising campaign which has digital at its heart.
The tough financial climate weighs heavily against innovation and the risks attached to trying something new as opposed to relying on traditional campaigns that have historically proved to be bankers. Yet without exploring the opportunities that digital creates, we risk watching those banker campaigns gradually wither and die, with nothing to signpost where the fundraising streams of tomorrow will emerge.