Kirsty Marrins: How will digital develop in 2018?

Our columnist canvasses opinion from the sector

Kirsty Marrins
Kirsty Marrins

2017 was a pretty exciting year for charities, with a number of innovative campaigns, from the first ever Facebook Live telethon combined with Facebook Donate to a transparent, live impact dashboard. So what does 2018 have in store for charities when it comes to digital? I spoke to four experts in our sector to see what digital trends they think we’ll be seeing this year.

Paul de Gregorio, director of digital engagement, Open

The sector will get serious about digital, he says. "2018 will be the year (I hope) that the UK sector gets serious about digital. The optimist in me thinks that the specific UK context (the General Data Protection Regulation and the public's perception of other channels) will drive significant focus and investment in delivering scale and increased levels of income from digital activity.

"There’s so much I could talk about in terms of 2018 trends, from the immediate – such as the rise and rise of mobile and the choice of payment platforms – to the longer term. I'm excited to think about the potential of blockchain, artificial intelligence and crowdfunding, but I want to keep it simple and make a plea rather than a prediction.

"The cliché is that you can’t crowdfund without a crowd. So whether it’s increasing the size of your email list or of your social media following, develop a strategy to grow your crowd. It will stand you in good stead when it comes to making an offer. And please, please, please make your social media activity social. It’s not a broadcast channel and you’ll get better financial return over the long term if you focus on being authentic and interesting as opposed to treating social like a broadcast channel."

Yasmin Georgiou, head of digital engagement, Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity

2018 will be the year of digital-led storytelling and innovation, she says. "This year we’ll see charities really embrace and launch new styles of digital storytelling and experiment with technology such as virtual reality – once seen as niche – to help them do so. In this way, charities will bring supporters closer to the cause by delivering emotive stories of their impact in an attention-grabbing and engaging way. In turn, this approach will help add depth and richness to the supporter’s digital experience.

"At Gosh Children's Charity, we’ve experimented with a few of these techniques, such as our powerful, emotive and unusually shot One Day at Gosh film, which was supported by case studies and a 24-hour social campaign, and underpinned by interactive web design. We built on the success of this approach for our Together at Christmas campaign, which included a new storytelling format for us: animation. We love testing new formats and techniques, and we’ll be looking at more innovative ways to showcase our impact in 2018.

"Overall, I think that in 12 months’ time we will all have become more digital. Developing digital skills across all teams is fast becoming a key priority, with many charities keen to integrate digital activity within their fundraising campaigns too. At Gosh Children's Charity we’re launching our own digital skills programme this year for charity staff, and we want to embed this across the charity so that we can make the best use of our digital channels and activity."

Joe Freeman, assistant director of digital engagement, Breast Cancer Now

We’ll talk less about digital transformation and more about digital culture, he argues. "Something I think we’ll hear less about in 2018 is "digital transformation". Instead, it’ll be replaced with talk about the "digital culture" within organisations, and how digital is accepted and integrated as part of work all teams do.

"This year, I hope to see charities taking more risks with digital: exploring new opportunities, not being afraid to fail and ultimately learning all the time to deliver bigger and better things. But this will be possible only with the right cultural attitude to digital and an understanding of how important it is to the future of what charities do and achieve. There is a real danger that charities will struggle if they do not adapt to wider digital behaviours.

"2018 will need to see a bigger shift in the sector’s realisation of this and of how digital engagement not only supports income, but also makes us more efficient in the work we do."

For me, I hope 2018 is the year that charity chief executives and their boards invest more in digital. Not only that, but that they also take the time to learn and understand that "digital" is not just a shiny website or a Facebook page. Luckily for me, Mandy Johnson, the chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition, of which I’m a trustee, completely gets this, as do my fellow board members. We’re already working on a number of digital solutions to help small charities thrive, so watch this space.

Kirsty Marrins is a digital communications consultant and a trustee of the Small Charities Coalition

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