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A digital route to recovery for the third sector

Alexandra Moorhouse
Alexandra Moorhouse
Marketing Director, UK&I
7 min read
6 May 2020

Headlines across the globe have called the Coronavirus pandemic the ‘perfect storm’ for charities and nonprofits; crucial fundraising streams have been severely impacted, while demand for services has increased. In a survey by the UK’s Institute of Fundraising, 43% of the 1,100 respondents reported an increase in demand for their services, with 48% facing a decline in voluntary income.

It’s estimated that charities will miss out on at least £4.3bn of income in 12 weeks. Even in the midst of these hardships, 84% of charities think their organisation could play a role in responding to Covid-19. And to do more with less, they’ve turned to digital.

Imaginative approach to lockdown fundraising

Many charities would normally expect to make significant proportions of their income from public fundraising events in spring and summer, but with social distancing measures in place and many functions cancelled, they’re at risk of hitting a financial wall.

The London Marathon is the biggest mass-participation sports event in the UK and raised a record £66.4 million last year. When organisers decided to postpone the 2020 race, charities rallied together in an attempt to help make up the losses by launching the 2.6 challenge on Sunday 26 April – what should have been the date of the 40th edition of the London Marathon. It encouraged people to become a ‘Home Hero’ by staying in and participating in the 2.6 challenge.

It was designed for all ages and abilities, and social media feeds became filled with people skipping, swimming, lifting weights, counting, juggling and hula-hopping. Sports stars and celebrities across the UK got involved, including Stephen Fry, Ellie Goulding and Olympian Jessica Ennis-Hill. 

The total amount raised was over £9.5million and helped hundreds of charities across the country. The support demonstrated the power of social media campaigns and teaming up as a sector. As a takeaway, charities of all sizes are amplifying their social media play with creative campaigns and engagement-led strategies, involving the introduction of campaign microsites and a mix of organic and paid posts to drive traffic. 

Opening up new revenue streams

Smaller charities may not benefit from having marketing teams or advanced digital technology, but they are proving their resilience through opening up new fundraising streams. For example, Manchester homeless charity, Coffee4Craig may not be able to operate it’s daily drop-in centre, but it’s working behind the scenes with services and key players in the private sector to ensure the city’s most vulnerable are not forgotten. 

On its new website, designed and built by Dept this year, Amazon Wishlists were incorporated enabling people to purchase selected items that Coffee4Craig need, such as disposable razors and warm clothing. By making the wishlist more prominent on-site, another barrier to donation was successfully broken. 

This strategy is being incorporated widely across the sector, as charity shops are an important source of income and have to shut their doors. Collectively, Save the Children, CRUK, British Heart Foundation and Oxfam run a total of more than 2,000 shops in the UK and plenty of these are opening other avenues to raise funds, involving eBay, social media shops and Amazon. 

Ramping up digital communications hub

The impact of Covid-19 on organisations in the voluntary sector or working on the frontline in healthcare, education or public services has sparked a subtle shift away from their core offering, or required them to launch entirely new initiatives and products in order to have a greater impact in the current situation. 

People on the government’s shielded patients list (SPL) are at high risk of developing complications from COVID-19, and the organisations that support their conditions are facing a rapidly changing landscape. For example, all cancer screening services were paused, heavily impacting research and diagnosis. Cancer Research UK is concerned about the hidden impact of the coronavirus and how it will jeopardise treatment with a  backlog when services are able to reopen. 

Cancer Research UK has teamed up with charity partners to create a knowledge hub and communication channel to listen to patients, carers and supporters, to understand their concerns and relay information. Macmillian Cancer Support has created a similar channel, and both have a nurse hotline available to call for on-demand support. 

Cancer Research and Macmillan are best case examples, but there is a broad mix in the depth of information available for high risk groups across the charity and healthcare sector. When researching and reviewing subsector organisations, we found a lack of practical guidance, such as how to cope with self-isolating, or how to access financial support and priority delivery services.

If a human factor was added to the Covid information being published,  it would be interesting to see how engagement rates increased. Perhaps an interactive quiz would encourage people to receive tailored support. Could a live chatbot help those too shy to voice their concerns over a call? 
Understandably, these organisations are working in high-gear to support the NHS and are doing incredible things. Introducing new technology for external communications isn’t the biggest priority in these challenging times, but by raising the benchmark now, it sets a higher standard for the future. When launching a new endeavour in these times, there’s no need to be overwhelmed in lengthy projects and digital roadmaps; move fast, pivot quickly and reach customers digitally.

When you need to publish and share vital information quickly, having the right digital technology to support a fast route-to-market is invaluable. Being able spin up microsites, FAQs and searchable content quickly has been a priority for many organisations on the frontline. There’s been no time for lengthy IT involvement, and those whose sites aren’t built in a CMS (or are built in clunky, older systems) will be feeling the strain right now. 

Luckily, the tech sector has stepped up to help. For example, DEPT® teamed up with Episerver to launch a ‘Rapid Deployment’ package for its Experience Platform, which includes all of the core features of content management and search, launched on a globally scalable, secure cloud infrastructure. The out-of-the-box template makes it easy to customise the website’s user experience, so that new sites that are on-brand can be spun up very quickly. 

Digital is instrumental to recovery

Every sector is facing unique challenges imposed by the coronavirus pandemic; from falling revenues to sharp increases in demand, but no industry can compare to the tribulation frontline organisations are withstanding. They’ve stepped up to underpin the NHS, and help those who need support the most.

The charitable sector was facing a crisis even before the pandemic. The best fundraising tactic right now is expediting digital transformation, enabling these organisations to talk to people in new engaging ways that build loyalty.

 The Future Charity thinktank surveyed 105 people currently employed in the UK charity sector from a wide range of organisations and 87% of respondents agreed that “supporter expectations will change significantly over the next ten years”. In the report, Cait Allen, Chief Executive Wessex Cancer Trust, said: “Brand loyalty isn’t what it once was. Our traditional, loyal, supporters are in their 80s and 90s now. Millennials are changing the ways they interact with charity and generation Z are purely instant givers. Charities have to completely rethink their strategy to survive in the digital era.”

Traditional communication and fundraising methods are evolving, and there’s no better time than now to speed up digital roadmaps and pave the way for recovery. 

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