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Digital does deliver

How to fundraise right.

Digital fundraising is a hot trend in the third sector, but how can we best use it to inspire action and empower people to make a difference? And does it really work better than more traditional methods?

Online fundraising presents a massive opportunity for charities to reach new supporters, engage donors and increase fundraising revenue. These organisations have many uncomplicated strategies they can use to thrive in the digital landscape.

Digital platforms, particularly social media, are not just a “fad”: they force a new way of thinking and represent a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.

Charities must understand that digital presents the opportunity to not only connect with existing donors, but reach new supporters. That is why it must feature in the overall retention and acquisition strategy for any organisation.

Relying solely on more traditional fundraising methods will become harder and harder, especially as the demographic most receptive to such methods is an ageing population. Whether we like it or not, digital is the direction in which the world is shifting. Fundraisers must follow suit to maintain relevance in the market.

More efficient

Digital is also a more scalable and efficient way to communicate – it lets us adjust, amend and optimise at a second’s notice. We can measure what is working and use this data to improve our effectiveness.

With something so flexible and readily available, the challenge is that there is no policing of standards. Actions that affect a brand’s digital presence can be instituted instantly with no strategy in place, so It is important to follow a plan of action and understand how this plan contributes to your broader fundraising schedule.

Basically, if you are going to focus more heavily on digital and invest in this area, it needs to be done right.

If you are an NFP or charitable organisation, the first step is to accept that you must invest time and resources in digital if you want to increase your revenue or online engagement. But don’t be daunted – digital is not just for big charities, and does not need a huge budget. One of its biggest benefits is that you can optimise, refine and scale up and down as you go.

Focus on key areas and don’t become overwhelmed with every shiny new channel that presents itself. A significant challenge and barrier for charities becoming digitally active is the sheer number of opportunities and platforms available. Focus on those platforms where you know your supporters are more likely to be, and so represent the largest market share.

Ongoing learning

You might consider upskilling your staff members or hiring new employees. Becoming more active online is not a “set and forget” process – working well in the digital environment entails ongoing learning and understanding.

To set your digital ducks in a row, look at the well-established networks where your audience is most active. Facebook is a good starting point. Refresh your website and look at how you can communicate more effectively via email by reviewing the approach of other key players. Ensure you are making the most of your Google Ad Grant, which is available to qualifying NFPs and provides a generous amount of in-kind AdWords advertising every month.

While direct mail is for the moment a mainstay of individual giving, acquisition is becoming tougher, a trend that is likely to continue. The response to this challenge should certainly not be to give up on direct mail completely, as fundraising income from digital is still generally low across the board. Instead, it’s charities need to evaluate every channel in their portfolio and leverage the strengths of each.

For a mixed-channel campaign to be successful, it must be able to work as a standalone digital campaign. It is not enough to simply replicate a direct-mail piece digitally; online components need to be able to work on their own so audiences in this space are engaged without relying on other communications.

Think laterally

Charities should also be looking at crowdfunding as an innovative model of fundraising and identifying key elements relevant to their own campaigns. Instead of assuming these third-party platforms must be used in a certain way, it is better to think more laterally and look at which techniques can be applied elsewhere to improve results.

Key success factors from crowdfunding can be used for a wide range of campaigns and activities. These methods include outlining a tangible goal to increase transparency, and setting a campaign timeline to promote urgency and maintain engagement,  

The structure of a crowdfunding campaign is a highly effective model for smaller charities especially – that is, fleshing out a clear proposition and communicating a problem, an answer, price points and ways of recognising or rewarding supporters. It is straightforward yet effective.

There are many ways to maximise the potential of your charity’s online presence, which in turn will improve your digital activity and ultimately attract, convert and retain online donors.

Studying best-practice examples and learning from successful case studies within both the NFP and commercial sectors is the most effective way to boost your understanding of key online tactics. This approach will provide you with insight into methods that can be applied immediately across a range of online channels to increase support for your cause.

Luke Edwards, director, Elevate Fundraising. Originally published in Third Sector’s June print mag. 

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