Charities going digital – what’s the point?

Michaela Hodges is Director of Fancy Guppy, an organisation working with nonprofits to help them make more use of digital in their work – be it campaigning, comms, fundraising, marketing, or events. You can find more information at www.fancyguppydigital.com.


Maybe asking ‘what is the point?’ is kind of a bleak opening, but, everyone has times when they feel that way, like ‘does whether I blog or tweet today really make any difference to the world?’ or ‘so I don’t know how to make our website mobile friendly, does that really matter?’. It’s hard to focus on the good that these things do, when sometimes things like social media can seem sort of pointless and frivolous. Given the enormity of the issues that charities work on, it can be easy whenever life gets you down (*ahem* Mrs Brown) to ask yourself how the work of one person can possibly make any real impact on something so huge and complex as homelessness, cancer, domestic abuse, or any other of the many important issues the sector works on.

I should make it clear, I’m not actively trying to dishearten you! (and I don’t want your liver). Because the thing is, we’re not really talking about the work of one person, we’re talking about lots of individuals working together. You have to remember that you are part of something bigger, and focus on the point of what you’re doing!

And this is where I come to the point of this blog – what is the point of working on digital for charities? Well, because it can help charities to do their important work supporting people and campaigning for change.

When I started Fancy Guppy, I wrote a blog – Doing digital in the third sector. – all about why I think digital presents an amazing opportunity for charities, and why I started Fancy Guppy. That was over a year ago, and I stand by what I said!

Digital can help charities with fundraising

The number of charities accepting online donations more than doubled from 24% in 2015 to 53% in 2016, which is good news since this year’s Trends in Global Giving report shows that online was the most popular way for people to donate (with 61% of respondents giving this answer).

And, just a couple of months ago (in August), the Phone-paid Services Authority said it expects text donations to rise by £10 million this financial year. Their Chief Executive, Jo Prowse, said “Consumers love donating by text. It’s easy, convenient and trusted”.

Not only this, but with the growth in online shopping and increasing use of contactless technology for payments, people just aren’t carrying cash like they used to. In fact, last year was the first time that more payments were made by card than coins in UK retail transactions, with contactless technology accounting for about a third of all card payments. And if you think that’s not relevant to charities, think about the fact that earlier this year Barclaycard found that one in seven people had walked away from a donation opportunity at least once in the last year because they couldn’t use their card. Enter contactless collection boxes. Yep, they’re officially a thing now! tap+Donate contactless charity boxes will be launched in the UK on 23rd October, giving people the ability to make a small donation with contactless, or a larger donation using chip and pin.

There are a lot more examples I could give, from sites like Give as You Live and Don’t Send Me a Card, to Charities Aid Foundation exploring the possibilities for AI and bots to support digital giving. And of course, let’s not forget that the #FirstFiver campaign (which encouraged people to donate their first new £5 note to charity) generated an outstanding £12.5m for charities, and was started by a single tweet! New tech continues to create more and more ways for people to donate to charity.

Digital can help charities engage and connect with their supporters

Here’s an obvious one – 97% of people go online when they want to find information about services, so having a digital presence, like a website, helps people find you. And now we can go further even than simply just having a website, and think more deeply about what the experience of using that website is like, how it can be improved, and how we can help to really connect people with information. For example, the British Heart Foundation have recently done a whole load of work on personalising the experience of visiting their website. There is a huge amount of information on their site, so they’ve adopted a new approach and new tech that will provide them with information about how people use the site and their preferences. Users will then be delivered content that is more relevant to their own interests and needs, depending on things like whether they are a patient, carer, relative or researcher. This kind of thing isn’t necessarily flashy or ‘exciting’ new tech, but it’s fantastic for supporter nurturing, it meets a real need for people to be able to easily access information, and it puts people not digital first.

Video is also a great way to communicate complex information, since our brains can absorb information 60,000 times faster by video than text, which may help explain why charities are increasingly making using video to engage their audiences with their issue. For example, Guide Dogs’ First Blind Dates video was shared 1600 times and liked 7800 times, and was their most successful video ever in terms of views. Guide Dogs’ Marketing Communication Manager, Liz Marshall, said that they wanted to make “a real emotional connection with people”, and video is a fantastic way to do that.

And as well as using digital to connect with people, you can use it to make connections between people. For example, over the past few years the RNIB have been working on ‘Connect’, an initiative to bring together people affected by sight loss. 4 in 10 blind and partially sighted people feel cut off from the people and things around them, RNIB is trying to change this by creating an online community where people can connect. Specifically, they’re using Facebook groups for this, at the moment they’ve got seven in total with plans for more. They’re reported that feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and engagement has been even better than they expected. Now, people affected by sight loss have communities to engage with, talk about everyday issues, and get support. And those conversations are being fed back into how RNIB works, enabling them to better support and represent the people they work with.

It’s no wonder then that 94% of donors worldwide agree that to stay relevant in a digital age nonprofits must invest financial and staff resources into digital communications.

Digital can help charities take steps to solve the problems they exist to solve

There are so many examples here I’m not even sure where to begin! Whether it’s the Tarjimly app providing real time language translation to help refugees be able to speak to doctors, aid workers, legal representatives, and other crucial services; Lifesaver VR, the new app created by Resuscitation Council using interactive virtual reality to teach people what to do when someone has a cardiac arrest; BikeAround using Google street view to help Alzheimer’s patients preserve memories; or BECCA, the app from Breast Cancer Care which gives information, support and inspiration to help people move beyond breast cancer. There are a lot of people doing a lot of good with digital, helping to tackle real social problems.

That’s the point!

We do what we do, because we care about the issues and because it’s important. And digital can support that important and amazing work. So, whenever things seem hard or tough and you feel that you’ve had quite enough, just remember that there is an excellent point to all this!

And if worst comes to worst, pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space 😉


Michaela Hodges is Director of Fancy Guppy, an organisation working with nonprofits to help them make more use of digital in their work – be it campaigning, comms, fundraising, marketing, or events. You can find more information at www.fancyguppydigital.com.

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