Charities must recognise the potential value of digital legacies (Guest Post)

Anand Ramdeo, co-founder of Planned Departure, a London-based digital legacy management organisation, discusses how people can positively impact their chosen charities by bequeathing digital assets.

| 29th Apr 15

Anand Ramdeo, co-founder of Planned Departure, a London-based digital legacy management organisation, discusses how we can positively impact our chosen charities by bequeathing our digital assets.

For many charities fundraising is a major source of income and, for some, the only source. With more than 200,000 charities registered in the UK, competition for donated funds can be considerable.

Yet in this digital era, raising money should be easier than it’s ever been. The Internet has provided charities with the means of reaching tens of thousands of potential donors – nationally and internationally – with tailored marketing campaigns. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, have changed the world. The ability to connect instantly with friends, family and strangers alike has transformed the way relationships are created and maintained.

And with mobile technology providing the means to engage with target audiences anytime, anywhere, the opportunities for charities will only increase. Advancing technologies such as NFC (near field communication) and QR (quick response) codes will also enable charities to broadly reach potential donors through the development of novel marketing programmes.

OnlineWith just a couple of clicks, people can leave as much as they want, on a regular basis or simply on a whim.

Living in an era of “always connected”, such is the ubiquitous use of smartphones, tablets, laptops and other digital gadgets that they have become reflections of our personalities, our interests and our identities. They have become the very fabric of our lives.

Fantastic opportunities for charities, so why are they failing to capitalise on them?

According to research undertaken by Virgin Money Giving and Third Sector Insight, charities across the UK are not maximising the potential of online fundraising. Eighty percent claim that online fundraising accounts for less than 20 percent of annual donations, and only two percent believe they are maximising online fundraising as a donation channel.

Additional research from Eduserv suggests that internal divisions may be at the heart of the problem. A lack of clear distinction between IT and Digital/Marketing teams gives rise to conflict and confusion. The report suggests that more than 50 percent of charities lack a clear definition of the responsibilities between these two departments.

The potential for digital marketing teams can be demonstrated by Humble Bundles, a US-based online business established in 2010 that sells and distributes online bundles of digital collections (games, ebooks, videos etc). Humble Bundles donates a portion of the sale to charities. Relying largely on word of mouth with customers paying as much (or as little) as they want for the digital products on sale, the organisation had raised more than $50 million for charities by the end of 2014.

And if $50 million is not enough to whet the appetite, some online marketing specialists believe that text donation campaigns alone could possibly realise more than £150 million annually.

DigitalImproving the targeting of online communities is just one area that charities can capitalise on. In addition to the capital generation abilities afforded by online and mobile technologies is the issue of digital legacies.

This is a subject that is beginning to receive enormous media coverage. Why? There are many reasons but much of the coverage has concerned the inability of parents to access the social media accounts of their children who have died. This has thrown up the issue of what happens not only to our social media accounts when we die, but also the vast online assets that we have accumulated.

These assets are too numerous to list here but include anything we have stored digitally – photos, films, music, Bitcoin, websites, accounts, online banking etc. In the UK alone, the value of digital assets is believed to be in excess of £25 billion (PwC data).

Making proper provisions for this type of estate are now essential because so much of our lives, professional and personal, has found its way into the digital arena. Even though many people, particularly those from the baby boomer generation, will have made out a Will clearly detailing what they want to be done with their physical property when they die, digital property is a very different matter.

In a conventional Will, nominated executors take care of the deceased’s physical assets when they die, but with digital assets, few people give consideration to the property they hold resulting in those assets often being lost forever. This is where charities can play an important role, not only ensuring that those on their mailing lists are aware of the need to protect their digital assets, but also encouraging their members to bequeath some (or all) of the digital property to the charity when they pass on.

UK charity, bibic, established to help children and adolescents with conditions affecting their social, communication and learning abilities, has become one of the first charities to address the issue of digital legacies. As a registered charity that receives no government funding and relies heavily on support and donations from trusts and foundations, companies, individuals and community groups, Mark Flower, Corporate and Community Fundraising Officer, strongly believed that digital legacies could indeed be a viable way forward for his organisation to gain funding.

Handshakebibic teamed up with Planned Departure last year and has been very active in pursuing the issue of digital estates with those on its mailing list. It is Mark Flower’s belief that if more people are made aware of the need to protect their digital property and the benefits of leaving that property to their chosen charity, the charities will receive invaluable funding from an ever growing list of donors, particularly as we expand into the digital era.

Estate planning that makes provisions for digital assets involves making decisions and giving directions as to who is to manage and have control over the digital estate, what is to happen to that estate and who is to receive the digital assets and in what form. This is the role Planned Departure is responsible for. The decisions made by the owner of the digital estate are legally binding.

Given the rapidly changing volume, nature and ownership of digital assets, it is becoming more widely recognised by law firms that including these assets in conventional Wills can be difficult and expensive, particularly if regular changes are to be made to the Will.

Now it is time charities too recognise the potential value of digital legacies, so many of which still get overlooked or lost. This could make a fundamental difference to fundraising in the future.