News & Views
Running a charity in the digital age

Fundraising used to be a simple affair. You’d give spare change to a charity collector in the street, or mail a cheque. But stuffing paper into envelopes isn’t something millennial givers are keen on doing. They want their donations to be instantaneous, and they want to be able to see their impact.

Rick Cohen, Communications Director for the National Council of Nonprofits, describes an “evolution of giving” in the last couple of years, saying: “In the past, there were a few big brand names for people looking to give Now, if a natural disaster happens, rather than donate to one size fits all, it’s a lot easier for people to find more specific nonprofits to align with their more specific interests.”

And these new nonprofits, which engage with consumers in a more targeted way than the traditional mass marketing approach of legacy charities, are enjoying record donation figures. Charity: Water has experienced year-on-year growth since launching in 2006, raising more than $27.9 million in 2014.


“We give millennials a low barrier to get involved, and we make things as easy as possible with features like our online fundraising platform,” says Charity: Water social media strategist Cubby Graham.

Conversely, the American Red Cross had its worst fundraising year ever in 2015, perhaps demonstrating once and for all that when it comes to where people donate, brand loyalty is fleeting. Consumers are more concerned than ever before with knowing exactly where there money is going and how it is helping people, and economist Will MacAskill makes a compelling case for putting global charities under the microscope and only giving to causes where your money will effect the most change.

 The Ad Council recently published a case study of a Goodwill campaign, revealing that digital outperformed TV, radio and print ads, bringing in 49 per cent of donations, despite only accounting for 5 per cent of media.

“With the evolution of social and digital media, there has never been a more exciting time for social causes,” says Ellyn Fisher, SVP of PR and Social at The Ad Council. “However, it’s important to do the research to identify the best opportunities to reach your audiences and achieve your goals.”

According to Jane Cave, Managing Director at the Institute of Direct & Digital Marketing, data is still a charity’s most valuable (often under-used) resource. “This understanding of the people that donate their time and/or money to the sector is integral for the long-term success of all fundraising and marketing campaigns,” she says. However, she points out that it is incumbent upon organisations to stringently comply with shifting EU regulations on data privacy in order to remain effective.

“Charities need to put their supporters at the heart of everything they do,” she adds. “As part of this, everyone in the organisation must ensure they are being diligent with this data, respecting privacy, are honest and fair, and taking responsibility.”

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