The digital fundraising difference: how smart nonprofits are pulling ahead

Third Sector Promotion Blackbaud

Industry professionals from Animal Free Research UK, Blackbaud, Manifesto and Rambert on how charities can use digital innovation to gain supporters and hit fundraising targets.

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The pandemic fuelled an extraordinary amount of tech transformation and digital creativity among charities and non-profits. And a clear gap is emerging between the most digitally savvy organisations, and those that are lagging behind. That was the message of a recent Third Sector Insight webinar in partnership with Blackbaud, which brought together industry experts to talk about the findings of Blackbaud’s Status of UK Fundraising 2021 benchmark report. Here, we reveal some of the key takeaways from the discussion.  

How the sector is doing on digital 
While 63 per cent of non-profit leaders say digital transformation is crucial to success, the benchmark report showed that organisations are at very different stages of their digital journey, as Pascale Harvie, president and general manager of Blackbaud Europe, explained.   

 “Digital sceptics” – the most digitally immature non-profits – tend to be smaller (68 per cent have an income under £1m), and probably saw an income decrease during the pandemic. “Digital rookies” struggle to keep up with the pace of technology, but think transformation is important, while the more advanced “digital adopters” have digital fundraising strategies, track effectiveness, and are feeling relatively optimistic about meeting this year’s targets.  

Meanwhile “digital experts” – those whose digital systems integrated throughout their organisation – make up only 12 per cent of the sector. However, these charities were most likely to be thriving. “Our research shows that the more digitally mature an organisation is, the more successful it will be in terms of income, service delivery and supporter growth,” said Harvie.

Barriers to digital transformation
The research also revealed some of the key barriers to digital development. Sixty-five per cent of organisations reported having no budget for digital tools or systems, 53 per cent said they lacked the skills required, 33 per cent said business leaders did not understand the importance of digital maturity, and 34 per cent said their data systems were disorganised. 

As the expert panel noted, digital transformation is also a cultural transformation, encompassing a new way of working that places digital at the heart of CRM solutions and use of data. 

“Organisations need to change the mindset of their board of directors and older fundraisers who might have traditional ways of assessing success,” said Mimmo Di Giacomo, director of fundraising, marketing and communications at Animal Free Research UK. “Organisations must develop their culture, bring in talent with specialist knowledge, take risks and experiment with new things.” 

Lou Barton, digital marketing strategist at Manifesto, a digital experience and tech agency, warned against charity leaders having a fixed mindset on fundraising. “A growth mindset is open to test and learn, and failures become an asset. Many non-profits are now copying digital successes to the letter, creating a homogenous offering – they need people outside the sector to come and innovate.” 

Leveraging digital fundraising
Some charities were able to be extremely agile in the onset of Covid. “Our digital innovation was driven by the pandemic,” said Rosie Hebb, development manager at contemporary dance company Rambert. “We couldn’t perform in theatres or do in-person events, so had to pivot online. We tried out things we hadn’t done before, including creating a new platform. We’ve been able to reach and engage more supporters than we ever did touring, plus we now have our own audience data, so can create new fundraising strategies.” 

For some, this evolution was already under way. “Pre-pandemic, we decided to stop community-based fundraising and invested in technology and a stronger supporter-centric design,” said Di Giacomo. “We implemented events and ran Facebook ad campaigns for lead generation, getting a great response in terms of advocacy and engagement.”  

“Ultimately, data is power,” said Harvie. “Eighty-eight per cent of digital experts say their organisation uses data to improve their overall performance. It enables organisations to make faster and smarter decisions, and to create more personal supporter experiences.” 

Evolving fundraising strategies
“Going digital can widen audience reach, which is great for bringing in supporters and interacting, but you can’t beat that in-person connection with donors,” noted Hebb. “It’s important to strike a balance between digital and old-fashioned methods of telemarketing and DM – we are progressing with a hybrid approach.”  

Animal Free Research UK has built on the success of its digital ads. “We’ve learnt that Facebook ads are cheap to produce and generate more supporter leads, but it takes longer to convert them into donors than traditional methods,” explained Di Giacomo. “We can’t use the old way of comparing investment to ROI. We ask: where are the trigger points to build an ideal donor journey for them?”

So where can digital rookies get started? “Execute one digital marketing acquisition campaign, alongside which you can learn the best messaging route to acquire new donors,” advised Barton. “Be tangible about whether you’ve hit the goal and share internally. Then create feasible roadmaps for the next three, six and 12 months.”




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