From small acorns grow mighty oaks: the future of digital fundraising (Guest Post)

Where and how is it wise to invest when it comes to digital fundraising and the skills and resources needed to implement it? Angharad McKenzie, former head of consumer fundraising at WaterAid, explores the issues involved.

| 18th Sep 14

Angharad McKenzie headed WaterAid’s consumer fundraising programme for seven years, leading the establishment of its first Digital Marketing team and the building of a digital fundraising programme which has been central to WaterAid’s recent highly successful campaigns, The Big Dig and To be a Girl. 

Angharad now operates as an independent fundraising consultant, working with clients to develop an integrated approach to the brand and fundraising programmes.

From small acorns grow mighty oaks

For those of us in the fundraising ‘accountability’ hot-seats, the online/offline debate has been one of the greatest of our times. So let’s just put it out there:

If we’re talking pure hard cash, offline beats online hands down. It has for years. It continues to do so.

There, I said it.

And here’s the proof: CAF estimates in its updated UK Giving report 2012/13, that a total of £10.4 billion was given by UK adults in 2012/13. Of the donors surveyed for this report, only 9% gave online, with just 2% giving via text. 

Data IndexSuch stats, and there are many, many more, have fuelled the lament of ‘digital fundraising’ for as long as I can remember. And they are matched, mostly, by charities’ own data. At WaterAid, our ‘online’ income from individuals was less than 10% of our total individual income in 2013/14. So don’t get me wrong; there is good reason for healthy scepticism.

But of course, such stats provide a one-dimensional and short-term view of the performance and likely performance of our fundraising – a view few of us can afford to take in today’s inter-connected and rapidly changing world. It’s one that might lead to quick wins in the short term, but it’s a surefire bet that the long term will suffer.

And herein lies the challenge. We love stats. We love to measure. We test, learn and roll out, and then we test some more.

Good data has been the cornerstone of successful individual giving programmes – and for the most part we’ve been able to define success and failure relatively simply, through linear attribution. We’ve used it for short and long-term planning. It has served us well.

Things change.

Media fragmentation is big business now. The changing consumption and use of media is just one factor in why categorising success simply as online or offline is, for the most part, too simple.

Understanding the inter-dependence of different channels and activities has driven a shift in our approach to measurement. It’s challenging teams and organisations to think and work differently, beyond silos, whether they exist with regards to products, audiences, channels or specialisms like digital or DM.

Much like the boundaries that once existed, but continue to be eroded away, between our ‘brand’ and ‘fundraising’ activities, the boundaries between our online and offline activities are now such that today is as good a time as any to consign the online/offline debate to history. Accept this: from small acorns grow mighty oaks, FACT.

phonesThe digital opportunity will just keep getting bigger

Web-based and mobile technology is a growing part of our life – not just us as fundraisers, but the lives of the very people we’re reaching out to, offering them a chance to cure cancer, eradicate poverty, or save precious species. And just like the stats we’ve all diligently referenced over the years to support our scepticism of this thing called digital, there is a growing body of evidence out there to support this assertion too – just ask Mary Meeker.  Or take a look at some global digital stats courtesy of We are Social.

Believe it or not, alongside these stats, the evidence is mounting for digital and mobile fundraising:

  • Few can argue (although many have) with the $100m + raised for the ALS thanks to the ice bucket challenge – not to mention the additional millions raised for a host of other charities along the way.
  • Or dig into the stats at your fingertips to see the impact of ‘No make-up selfie’, ‘Movember’, ‘Dryathlon’, ‘Go Sober’, or any of the challenge-type events fuelled by mobile, social sharing and the wonders of digital technology. 
  • And what about the shift from DRTV phone response to online or text? There are few ads out there now hammering home a standalone ‘call now’ message, I can tell you.
  • If you want pure stats, how about a 392% uplift in mobile donations to Macmillan Cancer Support in 2014?
  • Or the fact £68 million of the total raised via Just Giving between June 2013 and June 2014 came from Facebook sources?

The evidence is all around us. The challenge now is not whether to invest in digital fundraising and the skills and resources needed to do so, but where and how to invest wisely.

There are a lot of branches on a mighty oak tree

As the saying goes, the world has never moved so fast, nor will it ever move so slowly again.  And if web-based and mobile technology is at the heart of this, as fundraisers we’ve got a tricky job on our hands knowing where our audiences will be next: what treestrends to follow; what platforms to invest in; what social networks we engage with – the opportunities and associated decisions are endless.

So we focus, just like good fundraisers always do. And we keep working the data, as inter-linked and complex as that might be now, to give us that focus.

Digital is no silver-bullet – we all know that for every ice bucket challenge there are a million other ‘viral’ ideas that fall flat on their face.  But that’s no good reason to ignore the vast opportunity ahead.

So why not start by learning from others? We fundraisers are pros when it comes to treading the well-trodden path that goes before us – think direct debits, £2 a month DRTV, telephone upgrade, F2F; the list goes on.

You can start by attending the iFundraising: Digital and Mobile Fundraising Conference on 22nd and 23rd September, where some of the best in the business will be sharing their successes and failures in this brave new world. I hope to see you there.