Funders should be at forefront of digital fundraising innovation, says Comic Relief manager

Billy Dann, grants digital innovation manager at the charity, tells the Association of Charitable Chairs annual conference that funders 'have missed the game a bit'

Funders must get more digital-savvy, says Dann
Funders must get more digital-savvy, says Dann

Charitable funders should have been at the forefront of digital fundraising innovation but have missed out because they have failed to embrace technology, according to Billy Dann, grants digital innovation manager at ‎Comic Relief.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Association of Charitable Foundations yesterday, Dann said the development of platforms such as JustGiving had had a huge impact on fundraising but had been left to the private sector.

He also warned that funders would need to become more technologically savvy if they wished to stay relevant.

"We as funders have really missed the game a bit, and I think it’s a real challenge to us as a sector," he said.

Comic Relief had been quick to embrace text-message fundraising in previous years, which now accounted for about 25 per cent of its donations, he said, but since then innovation had stalled.

"Some of the big developments that have gone on there we really failed on," he said. "We didn’t invent JustGiving, we didn’t invent crowd funding, we didn’t invent hacktivism – and we should have done. There’s an issue there for us as funders to think about: why we aren’t doing things better and fitting in more with the digital world."

Dann added: "It is key that if we’re going to stay relevant we deal with tech, and we need to give that message to our projects."

The idea that funding technology always had to involve big funders and large sums of money was "rubbish", he said, adding that small grants could be equally transformative if they were used to kick-start projects and help to build capacity.

William Perrin, founder and director of the digital consultancy Talk About Local, said part of the issue was the lack of technological understanding among foundation trustees.

"There is a huge problem for most traditional charities in the UK, which simply do not have informed digital trustees," he said. "To transform an organisation radically, you have to start somewhere. At trustee level you have to get one or two trustees in."

And Perrin warned that some of the sector’s more common sources of trustees might not be able to deliver the sort of change that was needed.

"Retired Accenture consultants are not the place I would start for this," he said. "Someone says: ‘Oh we’ll get this man in – he’s been a partner at Accenture, he knows all about technology.’ He knew all about technology a long time ago, before he became a managing partner.

"That man – it’s always a man – is no longer at the pinnacle. You’re not going to get digitally transformed leadership from that person I’m afraid."

He said funders had to be prepared to take risks when giving grants to fund digital projects.

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