Engage the young with the web

Street fundraising, aka chugging, is touted as the best way to attract younger donors.

But when it comes to communicating your message rather than soliciting direct debits from this often cash-strapped group, the internet is an obvious and more successful alternative that escapes the poor reputation of chugging.

I believe a good charity website can turn a donor into a long-term supporter by getting people involved with the issues and the benefits, and helping them understand how donations are used. There is no way a chugger could know all this information, or be expected to give daily updates to donors.

Online, this is simple - you simply use a newsletter or RSS feed.

Online advertising is another important factor. It can target the exact groups charities are after, unlike face-to-face approaches, which involve the inefficient method of filtering through the crowded masses at random.

With online advertising, it's possible to seek out specific user types and learn from their behaviour. This can provide insight in a range of areas, from identifying who didn't sign the petition or give a donation to tracking users from when they see the ad right up to the point of donating or signing up to volunteer. Campaigns can be set up within hours of a crisis happening, allowing people to support the cause immediately.

However, it's not as straightforward as having a website. Charities must start looking at how younger people engage online and adapt their communications techniques to this new medium. They need to be familiar with networking sites such as MySpace, which has more than 112 million users, and blogs and media sites such as YouTube. Charities can reach more young people in a day with these methods than they could in a month of walking down Oxford Street. And young supporters are likely to keep returning to the likes of MySpace.

The net has potential for raising funds as well as awareness. Online donations have increased massively over the past few years - the Asian tsunami tragedy led to unprecedented levels of online donations. With the increasing number of stories about identity theft, it might not be long before the public starts to shy away from giving personal bank details to some youngster on the street in favour of donating online.

Bearing in mind the simplicity, security and growth of online donating, is it inevitable that internet communication and fundraising will banish the chugger from our streets altogether? Perhaps not just yet, but I have no doubt they will be cast out into cyberspace in a few more years.

- See At Work Finance, page 30.

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