Kirsty Marrins: Digital trends to expect in 2021

After the events of 2020 dramatically disrupted the digital landscape, our columnist explores what the coming year will hold

Each year I ask charity digital experts which trends they predict for the year ahead. No one could have anticipated just how right Emily Casson, marketing manager at the animal welfare charity Cats Protection, would be when she said more charities would embrace remote working in 2020!

So, what do the experts think are in store for 2021?

Virtual events will increase and evolve

As we start 2021 in a national lockdown, it’s a given that the number of virtual events will increase. However, Paul de Gregorio, founder of the consultancy Rally, predicts that tactically virtual events will increase beyond just fundraising.

“Organisations will see the value and power of well-produced virtual events to engage the public at scale. I’m talking mass briefings on advocacy campaigns, updates from the frontline and Q&A sessions – the most successful organisations will generate interaction and have clear calls to action,” he says.

All charities have had to adapt rapidly to embrace digital during the pandemic, but de Gregorio says that strategically we will see many paths this year, with some organisations steering back to how things were before Covid-19.

“The most progressive will build on the success of their pandemic-driven digital transformation and plenty will take the middle path. Quality and digital literacy of leadership will dictate your organisation’s path,” he says.

“Finally, people who are not very good at digital, don’t understand it or feel threatened by it, will still say that it doesn’t work. The only change here is that fewer people are listening.”

Charities will embrace open banking

A poll by the Financial Conduct Authority in July found that 31 per cent of UK adults have reported a fall in income as a result of the pandemic, and millions face mounting debt.

Existing financial support solutions have not been set up to cope with the speed and scale required to address this issue.

Jo Kerr, director of impact and innovation at Turn2Us, a UK charity fighting poverty, believes that tools like open banking “have the potential to support organisations who give grants to individuals in need”.

She says: “Some of the most historic charities in the country are now embracing digital innovation to improve processes.”

Already a sector leader when it comes to tech, Turn2us is partnering Lightning Social Ventures as part of Nesta’s Rapid Recovery Challenge to develop an end-to-end digital grant-giving journey, which will help deliver financial grants quickly and at scale. This year we will see more charities embracing the opportunities that open banking offers.

There will be increased demand for easily consumable content

With more and more interaction online in 2021, charities will need to be creative to cut through the digital noise.

Christine Fleming, head of digital content at the communications membership body CharityComms, says charities will need to “embrace platforms such as TikTok, Instagram Stories and Twitch to engage their audiences in a fun way, while allowing them to support the causes they care about.”

Charities will also need to consider that people are dealing with far more than normal, such as home schooling and a lack of work/life balance, she says.

“We’ll see more demand for easily consumable content like podcasts and livestream videos that are accessible on a variety of devices, allow for multi-tasking, and can be reformatted for accessibility.

“Putting audiences at the heart of digital developments will be essential if we are to help and engage people while they balance competing priorities.”

Innovative charities will leverage new social platforms

While TikTok is firmly establishing itself as one of the big players in the social media space, apps you’ve probably never heard of are starting to scale up.

Leon Green, founder and director of the digital agency Yaku Labs, predicts: “Innovative charities will start to make use of subscription social platforms such as the invitation-only, drop-in audio chat app Clubhouse.

“One way charities can leverage these platforms is by offering high-value donors exclusive access to staff in the field in return for monetary support. Influencers will embrace them more as another revenue source, and will be open to testing ideas with ground-breaking charities,” says Green.

Remote working is here to stay

While this may seem obvious, given the circumstances, I predict that remote working is here to stay – beyond 2021.

Many charities have already made the decision to reduce their office space and allow staff to work from home either permanently or on a rota basis.

The RNID made the decision last year to leave its London headquarters and allow staff to work from home for the foreseeable future.

Charities that were once so traditional are now seeing the benefits of staff working from home – lower overheads, more flexibility for staff, and more.

The sector could, in time, become less London-centric as more people work from home – wherever that may be in the UK.

However, while remote working offers many benefits, charities must ensure that staff still feel connected and that their mental health is a priority.

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