How charities can benefit from social media and YouGov research

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With the not-for-profit sector challenged by Covid-19, Henry Yates explores how charities can use research data to drive smarter decisions and harness the power of social media.

There has never been a disruption like Covid-19. While the global pandemic has left no industry untouched, perhaps the cruellest blow has been to the charity sector. With traditional face-to-face fundraising events impossible, and dwindling donations reflecting the squeeze on incomes, a recent Third Sector survey revealed that 87.9% of not-for-profits have seen their services affected, while 64% had been forced to furlough staff.

“As we know,” explains Ben Glanville, UK Head of RealTime Research at YouGov, “consumer confidence is low, so people are hanging on to money in case they need it later, which is driving down donations. But people are tuned in to the situation for charities, and they may be more receptive to requests for donations where it’s targeted to the right audience.” 

Adapting to this ‘new normal’ has been a pressing concern in the charity sector, with decision-makers pivoting their services and rewriting financial plans as events unfold. There’s no doubt the solution lies online, with several encouraging examples of not-for-profit organisations carving out a place in this uncertain landscape, using innovative methods like virtual events.

But for a charity to pivot online without a clear view of service users’ needs and industry trends can be as risky as maintaining an existing strategy. For example, points out Glanville, an online gaming event might pay dividends for a youth-oriented charity, but could misfire with an older demographic.

So how do charities adapt and stay afloat? All evidence suggests that the success of a charity’s post-Covid pivot depends on a deep understanding of its target audience, and a strategy for keeping those stakeholders engaged in the face of changing consumer attitudes. Using research to help develop these insights is the key to achieving this, says Glanville.  

“One thing that all charities can do is to target their campaigning and fundraising more carefully than ever. This can be through using research to examine whether there have been any shifts in terms of groups that would traditionally support them, and also looking at the consumer confidence within their supporting groups to augment campaign-focus accordingly.”

Known as the UK’s most quoted research source, YouGov’s recent RealTime research holds some valuable insights for charities on the importance of social media - and its unique ability to target younger supporters. It’s notable that 31% of adults aged 18-24 have taken part in a social media fundraiser since the pandemic (compared to 18% of the general population). Meanwhile, 39% of that younger demographic would be willing to attend one in the future (compared to just 25% of adults across the age range).    

These are revealing statistics, says Glanville, because the 18-24 demographic is often the hardest for charities to reach. “Social media can offer charities a way to reach demographics typically less likely to donate. For example, YouGov Profiles data shows that likelihood to donate to charity in the next three months is lowest among 18 to 24-year-old Britons (31%) compared to other age groups, such as 52% of over-55s, who say they are likely to donate in the next three months. However, this younger age bracket are also much more likely to say they are spending more time on social media. Over half (51%) of 18 to 24-year-old Britons say they spend more time on social media compared to a year ago, whereas only 33% of over-55s say the same.”

Most CEOs will be aware of social media’s immediate benefits, and may already have established online donation pages. But to harness the true possibilities of social media, it’s wise for charities to use research to build a profile of their service users, and tailor their approach accordingly.

The merits of YouGov’s research was highlighted by a recent survey, explains Glanville, which saw a detailed online interview sent to 2,045 adults, with YouGov’s Custom Research experts then analysing the data to identify how charities can engage young supporters. “Our latest survey shows that a greater integration of charitable causes and social media to increase ease of donation could increase donation frequency, especially among younger adults.

“The research also showed that seeing fundraising posts from friends and family is more likely to elicit donations than seeing posts made by charities. If Brits could donate to a charity directly via social media, younger adults are the most likely age group to say this would make them more likely to donate. Double the amount of adults aged 18 to 24 (39%), compared to the general population, would be more likely to donate to charity if they could do so directly through a social media platform.

“Of all the age brackets,” adds Glanville, “those aged 18 to 24 are also the most likely to respond positively to seeing both posts from charities and posts from friends raising funds – 54% of this age group said they would be more likely to donate to a cause if they saw a friend or relative on social media asking for donations. This is compared to three in ten (30%) of the over-55s.”  

While market research is a highly effective tool to understand the attitudes of a charity’s stakeholders, its benefits go much deeper. RealTime research can let charities deliver more authoritative pitches, for instance, gauge public response to new strategies or generate media coverage with an attention-grabbing statistic from a reputable source. RealTime is supported by next-generation technology, too, whether that’s the Collaborate app that lets clients create, customise and work together with YouGov researchers on their surveys, or the Crunch data visualisation tool that makes it easy to interpret and visualise results.      

Omnibus research can also give decision-makers in the charity sector a chance to step back from their own organisation and gauge the future direction of the industry. From preparing for declines in fundraising revenue to anticipating a rise in service demands, an overview of these wider sector trends can help drive strategy and sharpen messaging.     

“There’s nothing like a strong social network with other charity leaders to get a sense of what’s ahead,” says Glanville, “but research data can also equip charity CEOs with sector trends. For example, YouGov’s CharityIndex gives access to a daily read of the public sentiment around various groups of charity brands, providing insight into the presence and nature of any shifting attitudes or views associated with a given sector or well-known charity.

“It’s obviously important to understand if your sector is changing, so you can stay ahead of the game from a fundraising perspective. You have to be able to rely on the knowledge that you are engaging with the right group with a compelling message.”

The post-Covid landscape is challenging, but there are positive ways forward for the not-for-profit sector, and research can be an epiphany for bewildered CEOs. “Research can be enormously beneficial to charities, both short and long-term,” says Glanville. “Research from our 2019 white paper on volunteering and donating shows the need to not just vary social media platform used by age group, but also to engage younger respondents with volunteering, in order to create ‘lifelong advocates’ who later in life would be a key group to directly target with campaigns to drive donations.

“This sort of research can provide concrete decision-making tools to engage different groups in different ways (the white paper data shows that younger respondents are more driven by a sense of fun, whereas older respondents are driven by a sense of need) and for different purposes (for example, volunteering or sponsorship events versus cash donations).”

These types of insights are crucial in helping charities get maximum value and return on their marketing and fundraising spend. “YouGov partners with a hugely diverse range of charities,” says Glanville, “who use YouGov’s data and research to ensure that every pound of fundraising activity is spent reaching the right people.”

Discover YouGov’s RealTime research here.    

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