Published: 13 April 2015

Success of #charitydigital – a slippery concept

There was surprising consistency when the question of “who gets to define what digital success looks like” was posed at CharityComms Heads of Digital event. Very few digital specialists had direct control over defining how their activity was judged. Most were beholden to multiple other budget holders and / or senior management.

Having recognised this, the discussion moved on to a number of challenges mostly around the digital literacy level of many of these individuals. There was talk of shifting goal posts which meant proving success, or even quantifying how ‘far off’ you are, is a slippery task indeed.

What are your digital Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)?

There was a bit more variety when it came to KPIs – only natural when you consider the wide range of purposes charities have. Some are still being held to account purely with vanity metrics (likes, visits, followers), but there seems to be a growing maturity with more charities aiming for goals in line with their whole organisation strategy (values of actions, conversion rates for donations / sign-ups).

A critical note about context: if your site traffic and conversions are increasing this might not always be a good thing. Depending on your cause, it could mean the world is becoming a worse place so your help is needed more!

How to measure campaigns and projects?

When it came to more granular measurement of specific activities, audiences came up as a key component of setting your success measures. There were a few examples of highly segmented analytics methodologies which are being used to test and iterate in order to optimise results.

This data driven approach was relatively new in many of the digital programmes at the charities I spoke to, and aspirations of learning from the commercial sector quickly bubbled up. Convincing and educating non-digital specialists of the possibilities was expressed as one of the major factors in driving this forward. Being able to unlock investment in tools and analysts in particular.

Equally, the problem of data and information overload cropped up. We settled on a simple truth: measure what you can actually influence.

How do you measure digital transformation?

Another hot topic of the moment is more deeply ingrained digital change. We brushed the surface of measuring this transformation. What came up was around measuring the proportion of traditional activity / spend / reach vs digital, and tracking this over time, with a nod to understanding the impact of any wider consumer change.

For more on this, CharityComms’ digital transformation conference takes place on 21 May.

Barriers to defining success

Inevitably we kept coming back to the barriers many face when it comes to defining and measuring success of their digital activity:

  • Lack of reliable benchmarks
    There’s often no track record to baseline against and one charity’s activity is not always comparable to another, either due to cause or measurement methodology.
  • It’s difficult to understand blended journeys
    The expectation that you can fully track the impact of digital is high, but humans don’t yet come with electronic chips, meaning you can’t track the influence when it goes offline.
  • Charities have many faces – focus is hard
    There’s often not a simple proposition model so identifying a small set of clear metrics is harder than a profit driven company would find it.

Ending on a more hopeful point – what everyone expressed was a true passion for making it work and making it meaningful, the days of vanity metrics are numbered.


Laila Takeh, chief marketing officer, Raising IT

Laila is CMO at Raising IT. She has a large amount of digital experience across fundraising, awareness and advocacy having led digital at a number of charities; UNICEF UK, British Heart Foundation, Action on Hearing Loss, and MS Society.

Her passion for doing social good with digital has led her to take on many hats including being organiser of London @Barcampnfp.