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Putting people first in a digital world: learnings from 2021’s Digital Conference

26 November 2021

The world of digital is ever evolving and thanks to Covid19 we’ve all been catapulted into a realm of living our lives online. Charities have had to adapt everything they do at pace, while keeping up to date with all the latest trends and innovations.

But as charities one thing hasn’t changed, if we want to succeed, we need to ensure we are putting people at the heart of everything we do. This was a message that came over loud and clear at CharityComms’ bumper two-day 2021 Digital Conference.

Here are some takeaways based on the event’s five core themes to get you thinking:

Don’t forget Digital PR teams need support too

During Covid, we’ve all been navigating multiple challenges. And the effect of this on staff was a rich area of discussion for our opening panel; Age International’s Vishnee Sauntoo, British Red Cross’ Akriti Farmahan and The Runnymede Trust’s Rohini Kahrs. In particular thinking around how to manage busy workloads while preventing burnout and still ensuring the consistency of PR.

How did they suggest we handle this? Keep constant communication between teams. Keep messaging consistent across all channels and aligned to the company. And prioritise tasks in a strategic way. As Akriti says: “We’re not superhuman and we can’t do everything so it’s about saying no to things, while feeling empowered that you can say no with the buy-in of senior leaders.”

Building on how digital PR staff are being affected by the current situation, a spotlight was also shone on the negative side of social media. Recently there’s been a push for the Online Safety Bill, brands are taking the decision to deactivate some of their social channels, and one charity even had to pull their campaign. So, a fireside chat with RNLI’s Rich Ward on dealing with negative media coverage provided some timely advice.

Rich’s top advice; respond robustly with strong statements that provide opportunities to tell your organisation’s side of the story, while being a reference point for visitors. Make the distinction between people posting hateful comments and those with genuine questions and concerns. And have an organisational wide agreed stance and crisis management plan so teams feel supported in the work they are doing and ready for whatever arises.

Adapt to people’s needs when developing Digital Fundraising ideas

Being agile and adapting quickly have been common themes when charities talk about their response since the start of the pandemic. Reason Digital’s Matt Haworth’s tips for approaching fundraising goals in an agile way included being clear on objectives, obtaining insights from the whole team, thinking about how to make small differences first, reacting to time-sensitive events and reflecting on what has worked well. A great way to understand this agile approach is to take a look at the below infographic of how agile works:

how a board with wheels can become agile turning into a convertible

This advice was evident as Mind shared their learnings from their 27 27 campaign. Using audience feedback to adapt their digital communications and fundraisers they found audiences responded well to content from those with lived experience. Similarly, British Red Cross, said they used interactivity to inspire donations during gaming and streaming fundraisers. Georgia Paton explained that sharing brand activity allows supporters to get to know more about the organisation and the work they do.

Empower people through Digital Marketing

Author of Human Powered, Trenton Moss shared that by focussing on the win-win of each interaction we have, others are more likely to help us succeed.

At Sue Ryder their digital marketing team were empowered to try Facebook ghost testing to develop something that really resonated with audiences. They used the Facebook lead gen functionality to show users test ads in a way that replicated how they would interact with a live ad for a product so they could generate feedback and use it to shape the final product. This testing approach enabled audiences to be empowered to say what they preferred and the Sue Ryder team to develop their Grief Kind cards as a result. This in turn led to huge success in the form of over 34,000 orders since the launch.

This user experience was also the focus for The Bike Project who created a new personalised user journey on their website, streamlining the process of registering donated bikes. This resulted in a better donor experience, saw a huge increase in their mailing list, and in turn it increased efficiency for the charity.

Digital leadership and strategy is about bringing people on the journey with you

Again the importance of putting people (audiences and staff) at the heart of everything you do, came through loud and clear when discussing leadership and strategy.

Coach and facilitator Ruth Richards had a timely reminder for us all here, change is tiring. We are in a world of flux and everyone needs time to process the changes we are going through. Take time to listen to people’s concerns and demonstrate to them why changes may be needed so that you can bring them on the journey with you.

This unified people-led approach is something that was championed by The Scouts in sharing their experience of launching their new squirrels programme. They highlighted how important it was to adopt a people first approach while being bold and open to change. And showed how by in doing so they were able to develop something that met the needs of their audience.

And of course, meeting audiences needs is what it is all about, even if utilising tech for actions like creating and integrating supporter journeys that maximise engagement and sustain relationships is an ongoing process. More Onion told us that: ‘There’s never going to be a point where you can say, we’re there now, we’ve done integration we are now integrated, it’s an ongoing project’. But stick with it because it’s worth it for better supporter experiences, relations and increased impact.

Aside from external change though internal change can be hard too, and we mustn’t overlook the importance of connecting colleagues to our organisations as well. As Meta’s Beth Murray highlighted ‘Connection is the number one glue that binds an organisation together’. So that means we need to understand employee experience too if we want to succeed.

Think about how Digital Products and Services can deliver valuable experiences

Finally, when creating, or seeking out, new products and services that support our causes the importance of ensuring they also meet audiences needs cannot be stressed enough.

Samaritans feel good book club for example not only gained charity support but strengthened supporter connection with their cause. The charity knew people like experiences, acted on this consumer insight and exploited the trend for subscription services whilst embracing a test and learn approach. Their stance: ‘it’s about experience first, and about supporting Samaritans second.’

This focus on creating valuable experiences is something other charities have prioritised too. RNIB shared how digital technologies such as AI help expand service reach, understand customer needs, and enable the flexible delivery of bespoke service delivery to audiences. They also said that by utilising helpful technology it is possible to remove barriers to access, help reduce isolation, and empower those around us.

Meanwhile, Target Ovarian Cancer explained how their recent web design was made possible by putting users at the heart of all that they did. User testing with real audiences, and the adoption of an iterative improvement approach, means that the site is truly shaped around audience needs.

People, that’s what it’s all about – a thought that our final conference speakers from Government Digital Services left us with. Explaining how to deliver a valuable experience to all our users and be fully inclusive we need to bake inclusivity into digital design. As they said: ‘we are not designing for a screen we are designing for people’, a good reminder for us all.

If you missed out on the Digital Conference, or just fancy a rewatch, all the talks will be made available on-demand here soon.

Banner Image: NASA on Unsplash


We have collated all the #CharityDigital Twitter action below!

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.

Adel Hanily

digital content officer, CharityComms

Adel is the digital content officer at CharityComms, managing the social media channels and supporting content planning. She has a background in various sectors including event ticketing, PR, and charity content. She is passionate about communications and helping those with personal or physical barriers to succeed.