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Charities Eye Digital Platforms to Reverse Downward Trend

Filed under: All Articles > In Practice
By: NMK Created on: February 27th, 2009
Bookmark this article with: Delicious Digg StumbleUpon

As charities feel the squeeze during the economic downturn New Media Knowledge looks at how the sector can use digital platforms to increase donations.

A quarter of UK charities have witnessed a drop in donations in the last twelve months, according to the Charity Commission. At the same time some charities have seen an increased demand in their services, particularly those working with the homeless, elderly and the social care sectors.

Can new media help reverse this downward spiral in fortunes? NMK went in search of answers.

Social Welfare

A recent group formed on social networking site Facebook in the wake of the Baby P inquiry raised 17,000 supporters, showing the influence such sites can potentially weald.

According to Alison McLennan, Senior Partner for Charities at law firm Harbottle & Lewis, the social networking scene is a must for charities looking to raise awareness and funds.

“Instead of just asking for donations, [charity] websites now often contain a link to a Facebook group of fellow supporters. This may create not only a sense of belonging but also a dialogue making donations much less anonymous,” she told NMK. “The supporters, by forming a group, are no longer isolated and can interact. Additionally their collective voice becomes correspondingly louder.”

McLennan cited the examples of the Dogs’ Trust’s activity on social networks Bebo, Facebook and Twitter.

“I think social networking is one of the main features distinguishing the next generation of philanthropists from the old and it is only natural that charities should seek to explore new opportunities,'' she added.

Window of Opportunity

Affiliate marketing is also becoming a favourite tool of charities. Children’s charity Global Angels runs a ‘guilt free shopping’ campaign, which encourages every consumer that visits the site to buy one of the recommended products. The charity earns money which goes directly to help children at grass-roots level.

“Affiliate marketing provides charities such as Global Angels with a simple, accessible and, more importantly, free way to earn extra cash,” said Samantha Leigh, Head of Communications at affiliate marketing specialist Affiliate Window.

Mobilise Forces

London's Air Ambulance costs approximately £2 million pounds per year to run and maintain, and typically flies between three to six missions each day. Recently, the charity set up a text-to-donate service with the aid of communications provider Oxygen8 Communications to make it easier for the public to give money to the service regardless of their location.

Any member of the public wishing to make a donation to the charity can send an SMS to the short code LA81, which generates a one-off donation via the cost of the text message. Messages cost £1.50 per text, of which 90p goes to the London's Air Ambulance and the remainder to the mobile network the message was sent from.

"Although we are partly funded by the NHS and Virgin, the majority of our costs are covered through public donations, charity fundraising events and collection schemes,” said Andrew Cameron, Chief Executive of London's Air Ambulance. “We hope that the new text-to-donate service will provide another method in which people can easily and quickly donate a small but important amount of money to London's Air Ambulance".

Five-Step Approach

Robin Fisk is a fundraising technology specialist from software firm ASI Europe. He believes there are five key ways in which charities can use digital platforms technology to raise awareness of their cause, attract new supporters and develop loyalty with existing ones:

Use the Internet to go global

“If you’re not ‘tweeting’ then you must be ‘poking’ someone. Social media is the new craze in communicating to a mass audience and if you’re not yet on the bandwagon, you need to get involved. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube and LinkedIn are just a small selection of the social media platforms out there. Charities must establish their online identity through various sites – gaining fundraising support through social media will not work if charities simply target one or two.”

Introduce online events to the list of ways a donor can help

“Sponsorship events can be launched and managed online far quicker, with less overhead cost than multi-location physical events. Internet-based events eliminate the need to physically attend the event, allowing participation across the globe.”

Reward ‘Charity Champions’

“Take the time out to find your top supporters, reach out to them first and show them how to use peer-to-peer tools. Once they understand how easy it is for them to create their own personalised campaign website, they will be able to reach out to their networks far quicker, with no added cost.”

Understand, motivate and thank your donors

“Send your supporters personalised automated emails that provide fundraising tips, reminders, encouragement and your gratitude. Traditional means of communicating with donors are costly, time-intensive and slow. By using an online automated system you can effectively build relationships without the time and expense of heavy administration.”

Automate your donor management system

“Effective donor management is vital to any fundraising campaign. Peer-to-peer tools that fully integrate your donor management systems will allow you to capture new donor information and habits. By allowing your donors to create their own online networks, all donors that interact with those personalised websites can be captured, collecting money and growing your supporter database at the same time.”

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