Think of the last time you bought something you didn’t need. Chances are you did it online, and that’s no accident. Last year marketers spent more money was on digital advertising than on all offline advertising put together – a seismic shift, and one unimaginable ten years ago.
There was, however, one notable exception; the charity sector. Charities are only receiving about 9% of their donations online, and digital marketing is still very much secondary to traditional print media.
Recently, a group of us put our heads together to discuss this, at the latest Future of Fundraising debate*. I can’t say that we entirely cracked how to harness the digital revolution, but we were at least able to identify why charities might be lagging behind.
For us spreadsheet-enamoured fundraisers there is the problem of meaningfully defining output versus input: it is really hard to calculate meaningful ROIs from digital activity. And difficult therefore, to justify to trustees sinking the charity’s hard earned money in it. Why then, you may ask, should we even bother, if we’re not making any money from it?
We know the commercial sector can do it. We know that a charity without an online presence is essentially non-existent. But is the typical charity donor even online at all?
The short answer is that, if they aren’t yet, they soon will be. At the moment all donor acquisition methods are in decline – all except digital. The future of fundraising lies online.
The hard thing to swallow is that digital often doesn’t show a positive ROI – at least in the sense that we understand it. We have to redefine our targets and accept that our charities’ online presence is part of a larger supporter journey which includes, but is not limited to, traditional print media, broadcast media, face to face engagement and digital in all its aspects, owned, earned and bought .
This doesn’t mean that digital can’t be measured, on the contrary digital allows activities to be tracked in the most granular way possible. But this very mass of data causes charities, who often have clunky and disconnected systems for managing and analysing data and lack the skills to interpret it, enormous problems. The data holds the answers but you need to know which questions to ask.
Investing in digital fundraising therefore involves an organisational leap of faith.
And we need to be investing in this, not just as individual organisations, but as a sector, recruiting and training people with the right skillset. Just like the commercial marketing industry.
Digital fundraising is exciting. You can refine your adverts word by word based on response. You can follow your supporters from initial engagement right to the point of donation. You can literally target segments of one. Spreadsheets galore.
It’s a brave new world. And how charities respond to the opportunities and challenges of the digital revolution will, ultimately, shape fundraising for decades to come.
So how to get started? The first step is to understand where you are starting from. How are your current activities performing? Do you have the basics in place to allow you to track each element of online performance and understand how they interact? How effective is your online giving process? We call this a Digital Health check, get in touch if you’d like to know more.
*to be invited to the next Future of Fundraising debate email firstname.lastname@example.org