Making success out of failure – learnings from charity digital campaigns

There’s often more to be learnt from do something wrong than getting something right first time, as some of these charity digital campaigns suggest.

Chrissy Chiu | 4th Nov 19
charity digital campaigns that turned failures into success

Charities that embrace mistakes and take stock of what didn’t work in their digital strategies stand to be even more successful. Digital campaigning, fundraising, and digital transformation are challenging for charities. This year’s Charity Digital Skills Report highlighted that the pace of change is stalling. Judging risk is also part of charities learning to embrace their digital missteps while keeping donors happy. Coming back from digital campaign mishaps, charities have learned from their pitfalls and come back with roaring successes.

ActionAid’s ‘What a Feeling Campaign’ provided organisers with much insight on what worked, and what didn’t in their digital campaign. The campaign aimed to attract new donors and invigorate the message to eradicate poverty. Organisers took steps to make sure it would be successful:

  • Engaging with donors through social media
  • Commissioning a film
  • Emailing supporters for feedback on the film

While the charity seemed to have captured the emotive experiences behind giving, the fundraising campaign was less than successful – the campaign didn’t to reach the target number of direct debit donors.

> See also: Email marketing for nonprofits benchmarks and takeaways for 2019

Some of the learnings of the campaign have been shared, and progressed. “Fail, learn, and then leap to somewhere new,” said Richard Turner, SolarAid’s director of fundraising, and Action Aid’s fundraising organiser at the time.  He noted key tips to take to future campaigns:

  1. Get to know the problem;
  2. Be ready to fail;
  3. A new way of measuring.

Digging deep, ActionAid turned around the one of its fundraising experiences into reflections for success. The charity has done an in-depth review of its multi-national campaigns. Learning from its previous misadventures, future campaigns focus on linking and measuring funding directly to impact.

Gauging public opinion can be risky. The #LastSummer campaign launched off the back of the Ice Bucket Challenge, by the Motor Neuron Disease charity. The video and social media campaign aimed to update and reinvigorate the original viral success, but instead, guilted the public for not taking part.

Coming clean, the digital brand agency Neo published a piece owning up to the misjudged campaign. Nicole Bradfield, Managing Director of the agency, revisited the campaign and saw the nuanced misinterpretation. Ultimately, “it is easy to look at a campaign as a whole and see it in terms of a “lead creative” and “supporting materials” – but that’s not always how the public sees it. Every element of a campaign must be able to stand alone and tell the right story,” said Nicole in her feature. Being transparent, Neo also released key learnings addressing the communications mistake, helping to boost credibility and transparency for MND.

> See also: Lessons from the Charity Digital Code of Practice – Principle 4: Strategy

WaterAid has also had its own wobbles with digital. The charity’s website used to inform, attract, and communicate its mission in many different digital funnels.

“We had a large, burdensome site packed with lots of factual information about our service delivery. Looking into our site analytics and user research, we were able to realise that people weren’t looking to ascertain this level of information to prompt donation,” said Oliver MacKenzie, WaterAid’s social media manager.

Consequently, WaterAid re-engineered its website and separated its WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) programme. Digital partners were also appointed to bring in expertise – Access, based in Manchester, has been appointed to look after WASH and Drupal websites. Despite the initially confusing website, digital communication has been rolled out globally. Building on embracing initial failings, the charity has gone on to develop some of the most compelling digital technologies including Sellu, the chatbot which walks donors through the journey to clean water.