Enthuse’s Jon Lofthouse on the charity sector’s journey to digital innovation

It goes without saying that COVID-19 has had a seismic impact on every aspect of our lives and the charity sector is no different. The pandemic has created uncertainty for charity workers who have had to find new ways to to fundraise and to deliver their services to those who need it. The positive news for the third sector is that the challenges of the pandemic have shone a light on just how valuable charities are to everyday life and the general public is acknowledging that. Our Donor Pulse research shows that a third of people felt more positively towards charities over the last quarter, a trend that has only grown since the start of the pandemic. There’s no doubt that inspirational figures such as Captain Sir Tom Moore and Marcus Rashford have helped contribute to this by putting charitable work in the spotlight. Charities have engendered a sense of goodwill across the UK, but the usual means of fundraising have been hamstrung through COVID-19. Charities have historically been very reliant on physical event fundraising (everything from bake sales to fun runs) as well as bucket collections to raise that all-important revenue to deliver their much-needed services. The sector has had to innovate and adopt digital fundraising solutions in order to replace the income that is usually made through physical events, so they can continue to fund their work. 60% of charities now have a digital strategy which is up from 49% in 2020, so while the emphasis on digital transformation is improving, there’s still work to be done.

Jon Lofthouse

So how are charities choosing to innovate and why? Adopting digital alternatives The pandemic has forced the hand of many charities into digital transformation, which has fast become a necessity rather than a nice-to-have. Charities have needed to take physical events online to generate some form of income, whether that’s fun runs, sponsored swims or pub quizzes. This is something that was particularly urgent at the start of the pandemic when supporters may have already started fundraising but were unable to finish it in-person due to restrictions. The development of online event registration and fundraising pages for virtual runs and quizzes became an important part of a charity’s fundraising arsenal in 2020. And with so many people taking on virtual fitness challenges for charity during lockdown, integration of apps like Strava into fundraising pages helped to automatically update donors on progress. Ensuring the virtual challenge had race or target formats and participation targets also went a long way to creating a sense of realism. These developments allow for progress to be shared on social media or to be added to leaderboards to encourage donations and a healthy sense of competition, in the same way you’d usually get during a physical event.

Live streaming has been a popular method for fundraising over the past 18 months, too. Having the capability to live stream creates the opportunity for sponsored “gameathons” as well as coffee mornings or virtual quizzes, for those less interested in physical fitness challenges. If the technology also has event registration and ticketing integrated into the site then that makes the fundraising process even simpler for causes to manage and is something many charities now look for. Evolution of innovation As time has passed since the start of the pandemic, keeping events fresh has become a factor. With many charities adopting virtual events technology for its fundraisers to use, it meant that it was harder for those fundraising to stand out among all the noise. This is where we began to see fast-paced innovation through the sector, so charities could have the option to invest in that next level of technology to ensure their virtual events campaigns were standing out from the crowd. Solutions that integrate with the likes of Google and Strava to plot out routes for popular fundraising events such as the The Inca Trail or Land’s End to John O’Groats have been seen as the next logical step by many charities. Some causes are also investing in bespoke map solutions to replicate the physical fundraising events their charity has run before, in an effort to tell their story in an authentic way, with custom milestones en-route. Not only does this more bespoke approach help causes to stand out but it allows charities to run events that their supporters will have been used to and would normally participate in. With in-person bucket collections not an option during COVID-19, it’s unsurprising to note that integrating online donations into the website has been a priority for charities in terms of innovation. Our Summer Donor Pulse research suggests that 44% of people donated online over that period, which was up 7% since June 2020. This shows the value in being able to take donations digitally - you have to meet donors where they want to be met. The addition of Gift Aid automation within the donation process is another significant time saver for charities in terms of reporting and helps them raise 25% on top of the donation. With four out of five corporate partners expecting to increase investment in charities, match funding has developed into a key consideration for charitable organisations. Securing the support of a corporate partner is no mean feat for charities, so they need to ensure they’re equipped to take advantage of this when they do so. As a result, match funding solutions that can be built into event and fundraising pages have increasingly been on the wish list of charities so they can enable and process matched donations, to double donation income. Creating long-lasting supporter relationships Supplying supporters with the tools they need to fundraise and donate digitally was rightly the focus of charities at the start of the pandemic but as it’s become clear that digital fundraising will be a mainstay, attention has turned to using technology to create repeat givers. That’s why branded digital solutions are a focus for many.

“The winning combination of technology and a personal touch will ensure charities are putting their best foot forward at a time where their value is beyond doubt”

Our research shows that 26% of people who gave over the summer months were supporting sponsorship requests from friends rather than necessarily having a direct, personal connection to the charity. Which means if the branding of that charity does not stand out, they might just give and forget and never interact with the cause again. 46% of donors who couldn’t recall the last charity they gave to cited poor brand visibility. This is a particular pitfall for charities who use third-party online giving platforms rather than those who have started the process of digital transformation and take donations through their own site. 78% of supporters recall who they last donated to when doing so via a charity’s website as opposed to just 63% through an online giving platform that isn’t branded for the charity. The future of fundraising The COVID-19 outbreak acted as a catalyst for a large number of charities to set out on the digital transformation journey and adopt digital fundraising. This is a change that looks set to be permanent. With restrictions eased and mass events like the London Marathon taking place again, it’s clear that in-person fundraising will still have a role to play but this should be combined with the innovative digital fundraising solutions that have been adopted in recent times. A good number of charities now have digital fundraising solutions in place and are beginning to master those tools and decide what works best through trial and error. There’s no doubt as charities experiment and new tools are developed that we’ll continue to see a more digitally mature third sector that is packed with novel new ideas to generate income. The future of fundraising is hybrid. We should expect to see digital and physical events run side-by-side to cater to the preferences of all supporters and maximise fundraising efforts. The winning combination of technology and a personal touch will ensure charities are putting their best foot forward at a time where their value is beyond doubt.