Digital first steps for charities

  • From Ice Bucket Challenges to No Make-Up Selfies – many of the most successful charity campaigns of the past year started online
  • While the internet presents significant opportunities, new research suggests the majority of charities could benefit from improved digital skills
  • This article shares some top tips for charities considering their first digital steps

From the remarkable campaign by teenager Stephen Sutton, which helped raise more than £5 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust, to the record-breaking 2015 Comic Relief, via Ice Bucket Challenges and No Make-Up Selfies – it has been an incredible 12 months for charity fundraising in the UK.

The above successes owe much to the power of the internet, and social media in particular.

For example, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised £2.7 million for the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association in just one week. The phenomenon saw people post a video online of a bucket of ice cold water being poured over them, before challenging a friend, family member or colleague to do likewise and donate to charity. Before the challenge went viral, the MND Association was receiving £200,000 a week in donations.

While it is clear that the internet can dramatically increase a charity’s fundraising potential, many may not be equipped to take full advantage. A recent report from Lloyds Bank found more than half (58%) of UK charities lack basic digital skills.

We take a look at some of the advantages of embracing digital technology and simple steps charities can take to do so.

Benefits of social media for charities

The latest Social Media and Not-for-Profits Report, published in December 2014, surveyed 192 charities and other non-profit organisations that use social media.

The reasons they cited for using social media included: engaging with employees and volunteers; interacting with their beneficiaries; finding out what people are saying about their organisation; recruiting supporters, funders, and members; interacting with potential employees; and raising brand awareness.

Facebook and Twitter were the most commonly used social media platforms, but YouTube, LinkedIn and blogging websites were also popular.

Almost all (95%) of the charities surveyed agreed social media had raised awareness of what they do, while 80% felt it had improved the way they gained information about potential supporters and funders.

What’s holding charities back?

Given the clear benefits of entering the digital world, it is worth looking at what might be holding charities back, and considering how organisations can take their first steps in this area.

Fewer than a quarter (23%) of the charities surveyed in Lloyds’ study were investing any of their 2015 budget into improving digital skills, despite the fact that a small investment of time and money can make a big difference.

Various studies, including the World Giving Index, have proven that elderly people are more likely to donate money to charity than any other demographic, and charities may assume that it is harder to engage with this age group online.

However, this is not necessarily the case. Research shows 45% of over-65s who use the internet now have a Facebook account, for instance, and that proportion is increasing all the time.

Not all charities have taken into account people’s growing willingness to donate online, and the technological advances that are making it far easier for them to do so (for example Barclays’ Pingit app, which includes a ‘Donate with Gift Aid’ function).

Digital risks

Charities may also be afraid of the risks associated with entering the online world – from falling victim to cyber crime to losing reputation via an ill-thought out blog or social media post.

In the competitive environment in which all charities now operate, the digital world offers opportunities few can afford to turn down. By following Zurich’s Top Tips, charities can make their first digital venture a successful one.

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