Why Charities Must Focus on Going Digital

Published: 16 Dec 2014 By Nathan Dewey

Over the past decade or so, social media has emerged to play a pivotal role in our daily lives. There are currently 1.9 billion registered users across a variety of platforms and estimates suggest this figure will rise to 2.44 billion by 2018. The majority of businesses and public-facing organisations have taken advantage of this and built up a social media presence in order to effectively engage with their target audiences. However, the charity sector is one that some commentators have suggested perhaps doesn’t utilise these tools to their full extent, but why is this and how can organisations benefit from increasing their digital focus?

Of course, many charities do in fact take advantage of social media, but this is largely limited to the bigger organisations that are supported by enormous resources. Twitter is probably the most commonly used platform within this sector as it is best suited to driving campaigns that can gain public support. One relevant example is ‘Movember’ which has grown in popularity year-on-year since its creation in 2003. The campaign garnered 1.2m mentions last year and raised approximately £17.5m for Prostate Cancer UK last year (2013), highlighting the value of these types of schemes.  Another example is the #nomakeupselfie movement. While Cancer Research didn’t actually start the hashtag, the organisation had the creative thinking and innovation amongst its employees to recognise how it could benefit the charity and quickly refocused the campaign to ensure that donations were directed towards them.  And while it goes without saying that not all charities have the resources or manpower available to recreate a movement of this size, they are able to utilise social media, it’s just about having the right talent on board to do so. Indeed, a recent study by innovation charity, Nesta, found that the main factor preventing charities from doing more on social media is a lack of relevant skills.

At a time when many organisations are facing cuts, some charities may also be tempted to question whether social media is worth the investment of taking on new talent. However, social media plays a huge role in the modern world and it also provides a way to tap into younger markets.  In fact, recent research suggests that 18-24 year olds are six times more likely to engage with a charity if they’re approached online rather than by phone or on the street, meaning organisations simply have to refocus their efforts to become more digital. This means broadening their hiring strategies and recruiting professionals from sectors they perhaps wouldn’t have looked to source talent from in the past. The online world is only going to grow and many organisations may find themselves struggling if they don’t look to take on individuals that can understand the nuances of social media. 

And this doesn’t necessarily require a huge investment. While many of the larger charities will be able to bolster their social media and digital teams whenever it’s needed, smaller organisations can gain from simply taking on one person who can manage the various platforms. And although it can be extremely valuable to launch a nationwide, celebrity-led campaign, this isn’t necessarily realistic for the majority of UK charities which simply don’t have the available resources. Smaller organisations should concentrate on identifying where their audience is and how they can engage with it. It’s likely they’ll find this can help them to source more funding which can only be beneficial in the long run. 

With statistics suggesting that 17% of British consumers would donate up to £15 or more per month if a charity provided a more personal approach via their website or email, the lack of digital awareness from the smaller UK charities is quite literally costing them money. Organisations are losing out on at least £35m in year in donations by not having enough of a digital focus and this can’t go on. By investing in a social media or online specialists, charities can begin to see the huge value that the various platforms and channels can provide and with this arena only going to continue to grow in size and importance, now is the time to do so. 

Nathan Dewey, charity recruitment specialist at Capita Specialist Recruitment

Nathan works with candidates who have extensive experience in the Charity/Not for Profit sector with a strong focus within the specialist function of Fundraising. Nathan is experienced in successfully placing Fundraising professionals at all levels on both a permanent and interim basis. Many of Nathan’s candidates have become clients along the way, which underlines his commitment and success in this area


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