Interview: How can charities embrace the latest digital trends?

Erin Niimi Longhurst from Social Misfits Media interviewed keynote speaker Beth Kanter, a social media guru and US non-profit innovator, about the latest tools, embracing digital innovation, and the biggest challenges that charities face in this space

| 8th Sep 16
A trainer stands next to a Poké stop in Pokémon Go.

Ahead of the Institute of Fundraising’s Innovative Fundraising in a Digital World Conference, Erin Niimi Longhurst from Social Misfits Media interviewed keynote speaker Beth Kanter, a social media guru and US non-profit innovator, about the latest tools, embracing digital innovation, and the biggest challenges that charities face in this space.

Erin Niimi Longhurst: Why should charities embrace digital innovation? What are the biggest risks?

Beth Kanter: I assume that digital innovation means adopting emerging channels, or coming up with new ideas for campaigns. We can think of digital innovation as coming up with creative ideas for your marketing or fundraising campaigns, or we can think about it as experimentation with emerging new channels. I don’t think there are any risks by doing things incrementally; besides that, you’ll learn something, and probably get better results.

The worst thing that can happen, when you look at innovation, is when you’re not starting by doing small, low-risk pilots. That’s where the risk is. It can help you gauge whether there’s potential there, and whether there’s a way to scale it strategically.


Erin: What was the most unique digital campaign you can think of – and why was it so great?

Beth: It’s not exactly brand new, but Save the Children just did this amazing campaign – it had a lot of engagement, and it made use of influencers to leverage the influencer’s network that reached a new audience. They raised $250,000 for a crowdfunding campaign with PewDiePie, a YouTuber. I thought it was such a great campaign because they had gotten him involved organically – he had donated to them previously, and is passionate about children’s causes.

He has a highly engaged network already, and was able to leverage that for the cause. They were able to do some experimentation on a crowdfunding platform with some really good results. The campaign itself was really creative, too – using video but not in the traditional way we associate with charities. Having the talent speak for itself – I mean, Felix is already brilliant at video, and engaging with the audience.

They also tapped into a couple of other platforms where they were able to reach gamers, encouraging people to game for good.


Erin: What is your top tip for charities to engage with their supporters?

Beth: Paying attention to them, and saying thank you. Don’t always go to them with an ask first, but build that relationship first, through good and robust engagement.


Erin: I definitely wish more charities took a more innovative approach to it online. While it’s a great tool to reach donors, the constant asks on social are often uninspiring.

Beth: On the other hand, I’ve noticed that charities have become afraid to ask, too. Don’t be afraid to ask! We don’t want to ask them too much, but people want to be asked and engaged. When you are paying attention to your supporters, they pay it back, because there’s so much clutter out there, there’s so much stuff going on, that when you take the time to focus on somebody and engage them, you get feedback. So you’ve got to be somewhere in the middle – don’t ask too much, or too little.


Erin: Visual content is so important to reach the next generation of donors, too. We recently did an event with Instagram, and on average, millennials spend 22 minutes a day on the platform. There was such a high level of millennials on the platform, too – it can’t be ignored. Speaking of apps, we’ve seen the emergence of the latest smartphone craze, Pokémon Go; how can the latest app obsessions be utilised by charities?

Beth: You have to think about location-based targeting. Pokémon Go is all about PokéStops and gyms, and where people want to go. Any charity that is lucky enough to be near one, or have one on site, should find a creative way to engage people with your organisation using Pokémon Go.

There have been some amazing examples – there’s an animal shelter in the US that happened to be a PokéStop. They put up a sign asking for Pokemon Go players to come pick up a leash and walk a dog.

A baseball team in North Carolina had a field filled with PokéStops. They did a Pokémon Go meetup, and charged $5-$10 a ticket, and 3,000 people showed up – they donated the proceeds to a local animal shelter. A lot of museums and zoos are having Pokémon Go days, and set up ‘lures’ (which attract more Pokémon) – so more people go to the zoo.

People shouldn’t be afraid of getting started! It seems like a big step, but if you’ve done incremental tests before hand, you can see how your digital activity might be received and go from there.


Hear more from Beth Kanter, Social Misfits Media, and many more digital innovators at the Institute of Fundraising’s Innovative Fundraising in a Digital World Conference on Monday 3rd October. The hashtag for the event is #iofdigital.