How to improve charity engagement and overcome donor apathy

Rob Hunter
Rob Hunter

Charity fundraising has been in the spotlight in recent years, culminating in criticism from the Charity Commission about intrusive marketing. New research also revealed that four out of five donors rate their engagement with the organisations they support as neutral. Meanwhile negative headlines surrounding the collapse of Kids Company and the RSPCA being accused of snooping on the wills of donors have also helped damage the sector’s reputation.

However, this turn in perception could prove to be a much needed wake up call for a sector which relies on effective engagement to produce results. With message fatigue, negative sentiment and stricter data legislations, it is prime time for charity marketers to re-evaluate their reliance on the impact of face to face engagement and instead concentrate their efforts on creating fully integrated, emotive and creative campaigns that build long term supporter relationships.

Effective Use of Data

Donor apathy generally stems from a lack of audience insight into preferences and behaviour patterns. Supporters expect relevant and personalised communications as the norm, and long term relationships can only be built by consistently adding value. This requires clever data segmentation and manipulation – by treating digital mediums as part of an integrated cross-channel strategy instead of as a series of stand-alone channels. It’s all about simplifying the customer journey.

This method has proved hugely effective for our client – Cats Protection. Since the campaign started, there have been 40,840 adoption enquiries with over 50% of these directly attributable to the advertising and online campaign resulting in over 5,000 cats being re-homed. We focused heavily on understanding people’s motivations behind adopting a cat and then created a customer-focused journey through to adoption. Campaign optimisation was a real driver behind its success – measurements and benchmarks were set at every stage and key learnings were used to ensure our budget worked as hard as possible to generate the best results."

Shareable content

Digital storytelling on social media is a persuasive tool which helps supporters connect on an emotional level. The ALS Ice Bucket challenge and #nomakeupselfie were not about ‘money first’ for donors; but about giving value back. Charity marketers need to shift their focus from one-off donations and start building on-going dialogues that drive engagement, influence followers’ behaviours and build brand equity through long-term donor strategies.

Creating engaging, shareable content ensures that your audience becomes the ambassador. The Salvation Army South Africa’s capitalisation of ‘the dress’ debate is a powerful example of how to harness trending topics to highlight charitable causes. This hard hitting campaign spring boarded off the #whiteandgold #blackandblue social discussions, ensuring the Salvation Army became part of the international story.

Digital Authenticity

digital presence is worthless without an authentic digital strategy which builds reputation through transparency, particularly in the wake of inflammatory media accusations. Macmillan Cancer Support responded to the negative impact created when they appeared to hijack the ALS ice bucket challenge by engaging with users directly and in doing so overcame most of the donor cynicism. As with any brand, it is about owning your mistakes, being genuine and keeping the dialogue open and honest.

Integrating digital into traditional communications is unchartered territory for many charity marketers. However, it is an important tool in creating engagement, building trust and encouraging ongoing donations.

Rob Hunter is MD at Hunterlodge Advertising

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