Digital fundraising: Big ideas for small charities (Guest Post)

In this guest post, Kirsty Stephenson, digital strategist and project planner for Child’s i Foundation, explores how web-based and mobile technology are giving charities new and exciting ways to engage with supporters and increase donations.

| 5th Sep 14

Kirsty Stephenson is Digital Strategist and Project Planner for Child’s i Foundation. Kirsty will be exploring digital strategy in more detail at the Institute of Fundraising iFundraising: Digital and Mobile for Fundraisers two-day conference, 22-23 September, London.

The conference will address the ever-changing fundraising landscape, exploring how web-based and mobile technology are giving charities new and exciting ways to engage with supporters and increase donations.  Click here to find out more and register for the event.

Child’s i Foundation: A gnome in a field of giants

Child’s i Foundation is a small charity with a big ambition and a huge responsibility to do the right thing by the parents we support, the children we help and the community of donors and supporters who enable us to exist and continue our work.

But when it comes to (digital) fundraising we’re a gnome in a field of giants. We can’t use the same strategy and tactics as the big players – we would simply be defeated. So, we have to think differently, know who we are and play the game to our strengths.

GreyhoundRule 1: Be lean and agile

Our strength is in our agility and carrying too much extra weight slows us down.

We have to be ruthless. Even our website is stripped back. Rather than a website it has become a “go-to destination” (on Tumblr) where supporters can easily find out who we are, what we do, how to get involved and donate.

We don’t need a video archive – we have Youtube. We don’t need a gallery – we have Instagram, Flickr and Pinterest. We don’t need a forum, we have Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Salesforce Chatter and LinkedIn.

The risk of a traditional website (other than cost and maintenance) is that our supporters come to our site and get lost in a quagmire of ancient pages and broken links. No one has the time for that. We need people to understand what we do, believe in us and want to join us on our journey.

HugRule 2: Nuture relationships and allow everyone to feel they can make a difference

Over the last four years we have stuck to our belief that small amounts of time, love and money correctly targeted can make a great difference. And it has.

Digital channels have enabled us to build this project together with our community of hundreds of diverse people around the world. Our growing family of volunteers, donors and supporters stay close to our projects and each other using the digital tools we make available to them. They guide us, inspire us and allow us to share our successes and failures.

Like personal friends, some supporters and donors remain loyal and connected even if you only catch up once a year. Others needs more – they want to know what you are doing and, as importantly, tell you about their lives, ambitions and needs. It’s a value exchange.

We try to strike a balance between being present i.e. being in the same places (social channels) as our supporters and potential donors, whilst ensuring we don’t overburden ourselves with so many tasks that we can’t meet people, catch up with old friends or enjoy the party.

So we concentrate on our key channels (Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, Salesforce Chatter for our staff and volunteer network and Mailchimp for our email newsletters) and consider all other platforms as satellites. For now!

videoRule 3: Do what we’re are good at, but be open to change

We are unashamed storytellers. In the past if it moved (particularly the children in our Babies Home) we filmed it, edited it and stuck it on YouTube. This was our commitment of transparency to our supporters. It also generated a steady stream of one-off donations from those supporters touched by the lives of the children.

In the last year our project focus and communication objectives have evolved.  Although accountability to our supporters is still crucial (and one-off donations more than welcome) we also want to educate and inform our community of the wider situation in Uganda and our core objective – which is placing abandoned children back into families rather than them living their lives in orphanages. Not just of the daily successes of the children in our transitional care.

The more educated our community, the greater the advocacy, the stronger the reach of our supporter-get-supporter network – and from a fundraising perspective the greater number of regular gifts (our life-line).

So now we produce fewer videos but they are more focussed on explaining our goals and processes e.g. what the day in a life of a carer is like or domestic promotional activity such as an interview with Ugandan Sweetheart and adoptive mother Rukh-Shana.

FunRule 4: Have fun within the “Cadre” – using digital and being social should be a pleasure, not a burden

By establishing a firm framework within the organisation (borrowed from the French concept of the “cadre”) we can then test the freedom within our limits.

Our firm framework comes about from an adherence to our core values: collaboration, community, doing things differently and transparency. As well as our minimised bureaucracy derived from few processes and a culture of shared resources (we work on Google Docs, use Dropbox as our main hard drive and communicate openly on Salesforce Chatter).

Beyond that, if we had to document our approach it would be. Make. Test. Learn. Start Again.

We dabble with Storify, we play with Pinterest, we segment with Social Pro, we define goals (sometimes pointless ones!) in Google Analytics, we, we and when we don’t know what to do next we refer to our most popular video of all time – the legend Martin Shaw gives us the benefit of his 30 years + experience in the field of fundraising.

The Institute of Fundraising iFundraising: Digital and Mobile for Fundraisers two-day conference will take place on 22-23 September in London. Click here to visit the event website.