Charities 'failing to use internet effectively' for advertising, research shows

Figures from the consultancy nfpSynergy show that charities spend a far lower proportion of their advertising budgets on the internet than the UK-wide average

Charities are only spending a fraction of their advertisement budgets on internet advertising despite the medium accounting for almost half of all advertising expenditure in the UK, new research from the consultancy nfpSynergy shows. 

The research, which is based on data from Statista, the Advertising Association and the information company Nielsen, shows that the proportion of charities’ advertising spending that goes online has doubled from 2.5 per cent in 2011 to 5 per cent in 2016.

But in comparison, overall spending on online advertising has grown from 29.7 per cent of the UK’s total advertising spend in 2011 to 46.2 per cent last year, the research shows.

Instead the charity sector spends more than half of its advertising budget on direct mail and door drops, according to the research, which accounted for 56.4 per cent of advertising spending in the sector in 2016.

But this is a fall from 2011, when direct mail and door drops accounted for 71.2 per cent of all advertising spending by charities.

In contrast, the amount of advertising spending across all sectors in the UK that goes on direct mail and door drops has fallen from 10.7 per cent in 2011 to 7.7 per cent in 2016, the research shows.

The amount that charities spend on television advertisements has also ballooned in recent years, and accounted for 26.7 per cent of all advertising spending by charities in 2016 compared with 13.7 per cent in 2011, according to the research.

Charities’ spending on advertising has remained steady at approximately 2 per cent of the total amount of advertising expenditure in the UK, according to the research.

Joe Saxton, co-founder of nfpSynergy, said: "Charities are either unwilling or unable to use the internet as effectively as the corporate world does. This either is due to the innate cautiousness of charities, or a failure to find techniques that really work."

Saxton said that by focusing so much of advertising spending on direct mail, charities would be "disproportionately affected" by general data protection regulation because so much more of their media investment was in direct mail and marketing.

"One danger is that charities will find it harder and harder to get noticed in an internet world because they aren’t spending in the way that the commercial sector is on digital marketing," he said. 

"So perhaps the wider issue is how good charities are at changing as the world around them changes. No wonder people think charities are behind the times – I wonder when the commercial sector last had direct mail as it biggest slice of advertising expenditure."

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