Why are charities getting digital wrong?

September 20, 2015 Opinion

At the IOF digital conference at the end of September there were inspiring examples of charities engaging with supporters in new ways. More donors are talking to charities on Facebook and Twitter. They are crowdfunding on their behalf. The sector is generating exciting content that is reaching new audiences. This work that charities are doing is proving that digital fundraising can work. But small successes aren’t changing how charities approach it. Alongside the great examples was the admission that the sector still wasn’t getting digital right. Too many organisations still saw digital as an add-on to its existing fundraising plan.

This siloed approach is slowing the growth of digital fundraising. But more concerning is that it is pushing charities further away from understanding their supporters. For fundraising teams to ignore the different ways that supporters are engaging with their organisation is short-sighted. But it is as ignorant for digital teams to think that email campaigns operate in a bubble. We should think of traditional and digital methods in combination to gain a better understanding of supporters. Digital will continue to fall short of its potential if we don’t.

To become more integrated, cultures are changing within organisations and staff continue to up-skill. But integrating our analysis and understanding of digital and traditional can help too. Data analysis can highlight the importance of bridging the gap between the often siloed functions. Digital insight and traditional insight both have data – and the understanding of supporters – at their heart. The challenge, as another speaker said, is that while “analysis might not be complicated, it is hard”.

But hard as it may be, we have never had more data available to us. The amount of data that digital is generating brings with it huge opportunities. Opportunities to get closer to supporters rather than moving further away from them. Websites, for example, are increasingly being used for supporter journeys rather than for pushing content. But how well charities understand those journeys is still unclear. It is easy to see how many page views you’ve had, but it is more challenging to understand who those viewers are and what they go on to do for the charity. Only by linking digital journeys with non-digital behaviour will we be able to have a real effect on our relationship with supporters.

Setting appropriate KPIs to measure that effect will be invaluable too. As is just knowing what to measure. Return on Engagement will become as highly regarded as Return on Investment- but we still need to know what good ROE looks like. Understanding the data that is available for all these things is the first step towards this. The analysis linking it all together is the hard part.

However, when we get that knowledge it will help to break down siloes and re-enforce a shift in mind-set. Having evidence to highlight the many more engaged supporters – regardless of their smaller value – can help push digital within an organisation. Direct marketing is facing challenging times but it makes getting digital right even more important. Using proven analytical techniques to integrate traditional and digital data can help do that now.

Andrew Sargent, Consultant Analyst, Wood for Trees.