The age of connected networks

The age of connected networks

Beth Kanter | 31 August 2016

Ahead of our Innovative Fundraising for a Digital World conference on 3 October, Erin Niimi Longhurst at Social Misfits Media interviewed digital trainer and US non-profit innovator Beth Kanter about the latest tools, embracing digital innovation, and the biggest challenges that charities face in an age of connected networks.

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.


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 is 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 a potential there, and whether there’s a way to scale it strategically.


Erin: How can charities incorporate the whole organisation into its purpose online?

Beth: I think the biggest challenge for digital for charities is changing mindsets. Now, it’s really shifting, that it’s not this exotic technique in your toolkit, but that it’s the future of fundraising. People need to accept it, and put more time, energy and staff into it, and while some organisations are embracing it, we’re not all the way there yet. I think shifting mindsets from an exotic or unconventional channel to an integral part of fundraising, whether we like it or not. 


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.


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: Budget will always be an issue for many charities, so how can they make incremental changes to their digital fundraising to bring about impact?

Beth: So many of these tools or platforms are low-cost, or free. The cost is really the time. We always hear about time-starved nonprofits, and it comes from a scarcity mindset, instead of abundance. The scarcity mindset actually leads to bad decision-making, because it causes stress. Think about it as abundance, and be really focused about where you focus your limited resources. You need to also be aware of where you aren’t going to focus on stuff – I think if we can be focused about where you can experiment and run these small low-risk pilots, we have to drop the scarcity mindsets of ‘not having enough’.


Erin: In your opinion, what is the number one content format for non-profits to consider?

Beth: Visual content – with so much information out there, with so much data, we’ve become visual people. Photos, infographics, emojis, videos – as much as you can communicate with one glance, and something that is visceral, that can spark emotion, is really important. It’s important for nonprofits to master tools like Canva. I took it to rural nonprofits in Cambodia, and within five minutes they were up and running, creating content on it. It’s not hard to master, but hard to make a habit out of it and integrate it into your editorial calendar.

Another thing is video – especially with Facebook Live. You can’t just click on your video camera and take a video on an iPhone, you have to think of storytelling as well.


Erin: How has Crowdfunding shaped the digital giving landscape?

Beth: In a couple of ways. One way that it has shaped the landscape is that organisations don’t have to build and run their own campaigns themselves – and organisations don’t often like giving up control! It gives the supporters the power to take control of a project on behalf of an organisation. Having your supporters do this can help you build your capacity, and it’s great.

Another way is that it helps us reach younger people, and smaller donors. In the past, it might have seemed like a lot of work to go after donations of $20, or £10, but this is the donor development pipeline of tomorrow.


Erin: Definitely. When we wrote about our crowdfunding guide, Make It Rain, we saw examples of charities that hadn’t had a donor database before, and had build it through crowdfunding. These organisations were also able to solicit the same donors at a later date for a similar cause area, because it was so targeted. There’s obviously a danger, as people think it is a magic bullet – I found it fascinating that most crowdfunding campaigns are funded by existing supporters, and not necessarily all new ones.

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


Beth Kanter headshotBeth Kanter is the author of Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media, one of the longest running and most popular blogs for nonprofits. Beth has over 30 years working in the nonprofit sector in technology, training, capacity building, evaluation, fundraising, and marketing and has trained thousands of nonprofits around the world. 


Beth delivered the keynote talk at the IoF Innovative Fundraising in a Digital World conference on 3rd October 2016


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