Rob Weisz: Digital channels key to restoring consumer trust

Digital channels are going to play a major part in helping charities reconnect with donors but they must strike a balance between positive engagement and unwelcome intrusion, writes our columnist

Rob Weisz
Rob Weisz

Last year the essential bond between donor and charity was almost stretched to breaking point, when the widespread use of aggressive fundraising techniques coupled with numerous allegations of harassment, left consumer trust within the charity sector in tatters.

After the sector’s annus horribilis, I was keen to read this year's Fundraising Media DNA Report which was published last Friday, to try get a handle on which channels donors are going to prefer using to engage with their chosen charities.

The report benchmarks donor attitudes to the various digital channels used by charities for engagement and fundraising like email, DRTV and social media. Each channel is ranked for criteria such as perceived trustworthiness and how much consumers would welcome communications via that channel.

We know from our own research that donors really don’t want to engage with fundraisers directly, either in-person or over the phone anymore for fear of getting the hard-sell. However, with charities eager to rebuild the relationship with consumers, which channels are donors going to be most receptive to?

The report found that SMS donor engagement had increased from last year, with a significant growth in how trustworthy donors felt the channel is.  SMS also ranked extremely highly as a personalised medium, but that’s not main point about SMS that will have caught the eye of the charity sector.

A key insight was that while donors from different age groups favour different digital channels, SMS has proved especially popular amongst the 35-54 year old group, which is also happens to be the highest value demographic is terms of the amount donated each year.

Finding the right balance

In recent years the charity sector has become overly commercialised in some cases, to the point where hitting short-term fundraising targets has come at the expense of long-term relationships with donors.

It’s clear from the report that digital channels are going to play a major part in helping charities connect with donors and rebuild those relationships, but they’ll have to strike the perfect balance between positive engagement and unwelcome intrusion.

This means thinking beyond the first-time donation and actually asking what kind of long-term relationship do charities want with their donors?  I’m sure that most charities already have good, respectful relationships with their donors, but when it comes to digital engagement, especially via mobile, its important to respect donor anonymity without the piling on the pressure to donate more.

With mobile messaging you have the ability to include links to websites and social media channels, so once a small donation has been made via SMS, it’s then possible to engage that donor in a number of ways that will feel welcoming, rather than intrusive.

The current use of mobile messaging for fundraising and donor engagement is only the tip of the iceberg. As the Fundraising Media DNA report reveals, the popularity of SMS is set to surge in the next twelve months, especially amongst high value donors.  I just hope when it comes to respecting donor anonymity that charity sector has finally got the message.

Rob Weisz is chief executive of Fonix

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