9th July 2018

How will emerging digital strategies impact the charity sector?

Josh Whiten
Associate Digital Marketing Consultant

New digital techniques and channels are transforming how organisations engage with their audiences in many verticals.

On the face of it, the charity sector is no different, seeing digital as important for finding new ways of giving and in reaching elusive younger audiences.

But looking beyond the obvious opportunities which digital provides for non profits, what are the leading edge techniques which charities should also be keeping abreast of?

What is potentially coming over the horizon and what are the ways in which some of this digital first thinking is already being adopted by charities?

Several key trends have emerged within the digital space over the last couple of years.

Firstly, we’ve seen the decision made by many organisations to undergo a digital transformation journey aimed at achieving a more consistent and seamless customer experience. Driven by increasing consumer expectations across device and channel, whether it’s offline or online, the quest for omnichannel perfection looms large.

Then there’s the effort to better integrate digital marketing and understand the results which it can and does achieve. This is partly driven by the proliferation of potential digital channels, partly by the rise of the machines in the form of programmatic automated decision-making, and partly by the realisation that both platform and channels need to be integrated and optimised with each other.

Within this ever-changing landscape of digital experiences and joined up thinking, these are some of the specific strategies that charities could and should be considering.

They span the full life cycle of the typical supporter through initial brand or cause led awareness raising to supporter acquisition and longer term nurturing.

Personalisation across channels and platforms

Personalisation in itself is nothing new – after all direct mail based fundraising has used the technique for decades. But within digital, the opportunities for personalisation are multiplied and the benefits far more measurable – especially in moving consumers towards an online conversion of donating, giving or supporting.

There are numerous examples, such as website personalisation using implicit and explicit behaviour - type of content viewed or source of user - to segment anonymous users into personas, then customise content and experience on their remaining or future sessions.

This strategy is being pioneered by a leading health charity to provide different content for the very different audiences who visit it’s website; the sufferers who the charity supports, their families or carers, local supporters and fundraisers, researchers and clinicians, and the charities own staff.

As another example, Unicef employs very simple yet highly effective personalisation after a user downloads their Legacies information pack online; the first name of the user is then played back in subsequent content and also provides an opportunity for future personalised marketing automation via email.

Analytics and data maturity

Whilst analytics and data may not appear the most exciting of topics they are central to digital success. Greater maturity in the gathering, processing and interpreting of data is being called for by many organisations, across their functional teams and right up to C-Suite level.

Within this area, charities can definitely benefit from several specific strategies for using data to make more meaningful decisions.

For example improved and greater focus on attribution can help a charity to better understand the contribution which different channels such as display, paid search, organic search and social media play in driving users towards online conversions such as donations or legacies.

Various attribution tools and platform have evolved to help identify the role of channels, some of which employ complex modelling and even predictive Artificial Intelligence.

But at the simplest level charities can make a significant start on the road to attribution by initially understanding a basic first and last click attribution model.

Another key area where charities can quickly start to use data more effectively to make informed decisions with real impact is through the implementation of a conversion rate optimisation strategy.

An ongoing programme of a/b testing of key messages, processes, content and user experience, combined with analysis of data and an iterative approach can yield significant improvements.

This approach is especially powerful when experiments are targeted at newer audiences such as younger demographics where traditional messaging and methods may need to be challenged and adapted, trialling new ways to achieve that all important emotional connection with your audience.

Digital ownership and leadership

A common issue which organisations undergoing digital transformation face is the need for internal advocacy for digital, often at C suite level, to drive change across front end and back office operations.

Amongst many charities the responsibility for digital often appears to be particularly fragmented and disparate throughout the organisation, posing an even greater challenge.

For example, amongst some charities the ownership of digital channels can span new supporter acquisition teams, existing supporter nurturing team, or brand and PR teams. This fragmented approach can create real obstacles when the overall organisation has recognised the need to be more digitally savvy.

Bringing together an ad hoc approach to digital was the case with Christian Aid, which commissioned a team of digital transformation consultants to help them take more control of multiple digital projects with no unified approach, but with plenty of passion and enthusiasm for digital. Their CEO was quoted as saying “we had a determination to make progress on the digital front, and many strands of work in the organisation already underway, but had been struggling to move forward.”

Christian Aid has now successfully managed to harness the benefits of digital for all stakeholders across the organisation and move forward with a central clear strategy and a prioritised roadmap.

In summary, whilst it is probably fair to say that charities are probably not perceived as trailblazing early adopters of new digital thinking, it would also be wrong to assume that all non-profits are lagging behind the curve.

There’s much that can be adopted from wider digital best practice, but the key themes for charities seem to be a solid grasp of analytics and maturity in interpreting data; joined up thinking across channels and platform, and clear internal leadership for promoting the digital agenda.

If you’d like to learn more about digital in charities, join us at our free knowledge sharing event for national charities at the Shard, London on Wednesday, 18th July 2018. Drop us a line and we'll get right back to you with more details.