Interview: Paul Gill, Head of Digital Engagement at Oxfam

We recently caught up with Paul Gill, who runs the Digital Engagement team at Oxfam GB. The team delivers user-centred digital comms, focused on providing the best digital brand experience, raising income and influencing.

| 17th Mar 15

We recently caught up with Paul Gill, who runs the Digital Engagement team at Oxfam GB. The team delivers user-centred digital comms, focused on providing the best digital brand experience, raising income and influencing. Paul has a personal focus on user experience (UX) and the cross-channel experience for our supporters. 

Do you think digital is positively disrupting the charity sector?

I see disruption as being a paradigm shift in a sector – Uber, Amazon, Netflix – where digital has completely turned an entire business model (and the value chain) on its head. Charities haven’t been disrupted in this way – yet. and Avaaz have made a step change in online campaigning that all charities are still learning from, but I don’t see that as a disruption.

Digital is changing the way that we engage with our supporters, though. For an organisation like Oxfam – with thousands of people doing fantastic and wonderful work around the world – organisational porosity is massive opportunity. By this, I mean opening out what we do on a day-to-day basis directly to our supporters and becoming a content provider in our own right. Because of our belief in the power of people to help overcome the poverty in their own lives, the people we support through our work are also key supporters of our mission. Social can give (and amplify) their voice – helping to drive scale and achieve more lasting change, with undeniable authenticity. This is something that Oxfam is actively seeking to achieve over the next five years through a large piece of organisational change.

What factors do you think make a great charity website?

I’m a huge advocate of user-centred design and continuous optimisation. A great charity website has to satisfy the needs of its users. This means that the charity has to have done research into their perceptions, attitudes and needs. It then has test the design with users directly. Oxfam did this as part of the design for our current site and it helped us focus on the things that mattered – with the result being a simple and effective site design. However, we don’t rest on our laurels – we run a continuous improvement programme with several AB/multivariate tests running on key interaction points on the site at any one time. This means that we’re using data from interactions of our users to challenge assumptions about how our site works.

Any charity website that plays out its internal structures or doesn’t listen to its users isn’t doing a good enough job for the charity. As an addendum, I would extend the scope of this question to: “what makes a great digital experience”. Websites are just one part of the digital marketing mix, and as Oxfam’s Digital Engagement team we ensure that the cross-channel digital experience is carefully planned and optimised. This is from email, social, SEO, affiliates, paid search through to the website and any follow up actions that our users might undertake, as well as listening to conversations involving us and getting involved appropriately. The digital landscape is a wide one, and we need to understand the context of our supporters’ interaction with us, and be flexible enough to support it – whatever form it takes.

What digital innovations do you have up your sleeve for 2015?

I can’t be specific but we do have several areas in which we’re either developing or launching innovative products or services. In 2014 we had great success in bringing paid search in-house – within the first year this acquisition channel is already very profitable for us. So we plan to replicate the success of this approach across other paid digital channels – including paid social which we’ve been experimenting with for the last six months or so. At the end of last year, we ran a trial with Playmob and Runescape in which we made a donation ask to Runescape players in-game. The campaign was incredibly successful (a 6:1 ROI), and so we plan to do more with them in 2015. We do also plan new digital projects in campaigning and trading – but it’s difficult to talk about these without going into specifics.