Five key themes from the Digital Fundraising Conference 2019

Five key themes from the Digital Fundraising Conference 2019

| 4 April 2019

Following last month’s Digital Fundraising Conference, Sandra Padilla – the IoF’s own Digital Manager – looks at the five key themes and learnings that she came away with.

This year’s Digital Conference brought us practical examples of how charities have taken the digital leap and the impact this has had in their fundraising activities, team dynamics and internal processes.

1. Digital transformation

Having previously been part of the digital team at a charity I was really impressed by the number of case studies and initiatives which showed a creative use of digital technologies. It was not just the big charities, it has also been embraced by smaller and medium-sized charities.

Yasmin Georgiou is the Head of Digital Engagement at Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity. She took us through the journey that her team followed in order to have a digital-first approach in their processes.

Her team went from working in silos delivering requirements, with stakeholders having to fill in multiple brief forms for each area of digital (video, social, paid, etc) to coming up with better ways of working together by designing processes, reevaluating the culture, and coming up with systems that meant the needs and challenges of the fundraising team were better understood by the digital team.

She said that some of the key elements that played a role here, included:

  • Having a clear strategy
  • Getting senior buy-in
  • Upskilling the digital team
  • Upskilling the wider team from other areas in digital skills in order to empower them to take ownership of their own areas and also be better prepared to work in collaboration with the digital team
  • Leaving egos in one side, the key is to agree - no matter who’s right and who is not – and move processes forward


As James Gadsy Peet, Director of Digital, William Joseph noted “digital change is all about organisational change which is all about people”.

2. Make your supporter your hero

Discussions on the challenges charities face when engaging with their audiences in the digital space came up throughout the day. Cutting through the noise and the getting the attention of people in a time of abundance of information and short attention spans seemed to be a big challenge for many of the charities in the room, especially when budgets are small.

It’s been a steep learning curve for charities to think and deliver a customer first approach in their communications. Most charities serve different audiences and a common mistake is focusing in just one of them – for example, a health charity only talking about the people they help but not talking about their supporters. For Grant Leboff, CEO of Sticky Marketing Club, supporters need to be part of the narrative too.

Emily Casson, Digital Marketing Manager at Cats Protection, presented examples of how her team have achieved a good level of engagement whilst working with limited resources. She has made an effort to understand her audience; how they think, what their motivations are and what their online behaviour is.


3. Generate value through your content

Digital offers a wide range of options for formats and channels to help charities speak to their audiences. Video, podcasts, animations, the possibilities seem endless, but the challenge is integrating this content into a multichannel campaign and producing content that generates value to your audience.

Saleem Tejani from video agency DTV Group presented good examples of videos made with low budgets that have managed to deliver the message, captivate the audience and prompt donations –even in cases when a donate CTA wasn’t part of the campaign. Saleem said it is not always necessary to spend lots of money, but the key is to come up with ideas, start with simple stuff and find out what works.

When it comes to creating video, his top tips were:

  • The first 3 seconds of the video play a crucial part in engaging the viewer
  • Captions are essential as more people watch videos without sound
  • At the end of the video make clear to your audience what you want them to do, a clear CTA must be delivered

4. Making use of technology

There were good examples of how the use of technology has helped fundraising go beyond the traditional ways of obtaining donations, generating a seamless user experience and staying up-to-date with new trends.

Contactless donations have now been adopted by many charities. Polly Gilbert and Katie Whitlock, the co-founders of TAP, provided us insight on how this process happened and how they got inspired to create a practical contactless payment system for charities after seeing for themselves the limitations of cash donations on the street or at community events. Homelessness charities and institutions like the Church of England or the Natural History Museum are now using TAP.

Digital consultant Zoe Amar pointed out that another challenge for the sector is focusing too much on what other organisations in the sector are doing and not thinking outside the box. She said it is important to keep an eye on what start-ups or organisations in other sectors are doing in with digital, and more importantly, spot the opportunity for collaborations.

But technology comes with challenges too – cybersecurity and protecting data being the most prominent, especially in the light of GDPR. Data is probably the most valuable asset for any organisation, including charities, and we have seen many examples in the past of how data breaches have affected the trust consumers had put in companies and brands.

Neil Sinclair, National Cyber Lead, Police Digital Security Centre, took us through some simple examples of how any organisation or individuals can be a victim of techniques used by cybercriminals such as phishing, whaling, and malware, among many others. Data protection should become a rule of thumb at all levels in a charity and protocols to ensure data security must be put in place.

5. Test as you go

Amy Dicketts made the move from the fundraising sector to tech start-up and millennial bank Monzo, where she said she was surprised to find that instead of having an approach of ‘agile’, they focused on faster decision making and ‘speed as a habit’.

She said that with quicker decision making, the team at Monzo can work out what they need to do sooner and work under the adage that “quick decisions are better than no decisions”. This means that they will release the smallest, testable version of a product – a minimum viable product (MVP) – that it is possible to give to the user, and then see and react to how that works.

Amy added that then there must be a focus on the feedback loop, where everything should be tested and fed back on. She said that you don’t have to be testing with thousands of users to get a good response, and that as a rule you can get a good idea of common themes and problems with as little as five responses.

Emily from Cat’s Protection spoke about how her team has embraced AB testing in their digital communications. Being open to experiment has had a positive impact on their fundraising activities – and has meant they even know the colour cat that is most likely to draw donations (ginger cats, apparently).

Find out about the other conferences and short-courses we have on offer here, or take a look at the programme for this year's Fundraising Convention including our digital stream.

Sandra Padilla, Digital Manager, Institute of Fundraising




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