Introduction to digital fundraising
Digital fundraising relates to the use of technology to leverage new income – or to better leverage existing income – for a charity.
This definition encompasses many different mechanisms and types of digital fundraising, including:
- Online donation pages
- Community fundraising pages
- Customer Relationship Management systems
- Integrated donation and accountancy platforms
A digital fundraising strategy should never replace a ‘traditional’ fundraising strategy – the two should complement each other. In an ideal world, the use of digital tools will better facilitate the delivery of an organisational fundraising strategy and drive forwards the business plan.
Recent surveys have found that online giving has increased by 97% since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic , and that almost 80% of charities are now using digital to reach new audiences . Half of charities now see digital fundraising as a priority. 90% of the UK population regularly uses the internet and spend on average 2 hours 51 minutes per day online
Digital tools can allow heritage organisations to reach new audiences, increase income, and reduce the staff or volunteer capacity required to service relationships with existing supporters.
In general, organisations should focus on doing one or two elements of digital fundraising really well, rather than trying to launch on every platform and tool that exists. This is especially true for small heritage organisations where capacity is limited and has to be well applied.
How to write and enact a digital fundraising strategy
The key to any strategy is to clearly understand what you are trying to achieve. Just as it is not possible to plan a route without a destination, it is not possible to plan next steps in a particular area without knowing your goal. Different organisations will have different objectives for a Digital Fundraising strategy. These should be big-picture, overarching ambitions that the strategy and specific targets within it can then help to realise. For example:
- Increase income from individual donations to 25% of organisational income
- Reduce volunteer time spent soliciting or processing donations to
- Grow awareness of our organisation’s impact in the local community
- Collect data on 40% of donors to better understand our audiences and supporters
Consider the following questions:
- Why are you launching a digital fundraising strategy?
- What would success look like for you?
Agree one core objective – the central priority for your organisation. Don’t be tempted at this stage to say ‘we want to achieve all of the above’.
Before you start considering a future strategy for digital fundraising, it is important that you take time to consider where you currently are as an organisation. With a clear understanding of this, it is then easier and more effective to put in place future plans.
Conduct an internal audit, reviewing:
- What digital fundraising activity is currently happening, or has happened in the past?
- What channels are you using for fundraising more generally, and what level of success are they seeing? Look back over the last three to five years.
- How many donors do you have? How many people do you reach as audiences?
- What resources do you already have in place? This might be staff or volunteers with specific expertise, or digital resources such as computers, software or online platforms.
From this internal audit, note any Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities or Threats that might affect the success of a digital fundraising strategy.
As well as reviewing your internal context, it is important for a strategy to respond to external data. For a digital fundraising strategy, this should include:
- Benchmarking against peers: what organisations do you admire? Who has the digital presence that you would like to have? What tools and platforms are they using? What is their income breakdown?
Thorough benchmarking of 8-10 comparable organisations who are further developed in relation to digital will help you to understand what is already working for organisations like you, which will in turn help you to set future strategy.
- Contextual research: what is happening in your sector and local area? What is the real need to which you are responding? What is the level of digital competence of your audiences and volunteers? What are the implications of this for a digital fundraising strategy?
Through research you can ensure that digital products and campaigns that you put in place are relevant and appropriate for your audience and the context in which you operate.
A digital fundraising strategy should be audience focussed: different people have highly varied levels of confidence and expertise with digital platforms, and as such a strategy should consider who will be engaging with your products and therefore how they should be designed.
Who are your supporters? Put yourself in their shoes. Think about their behaviours on- and off-line. What platforms are they using? What do they want from your digital presence? What is their journey through your social media and website? Where are their needs being met, and where aren’t they? How can digital better meet their needs?
Once you know what you want to achieve and who you aim to engage, its time to consider the tools you will use to get there
- Social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, where your charity has an organisational profile and engages with its audiences directly. Some of these platforms now allow for fundraising.
- Email, whether direct or through newsletters and mailings
- Website, including general content design, Search Engine Optimisation, and fundraising pages
- Third party platforms such as JustGiving which allow an individual to fundraise on your behalf, or where you might not have direct control of your charity’s portrayal.
- Content generation tools such as Canva which allow you to produce text, video and images for use in digital campaigns
- Back end software that supports you to streamline fundraising within your staff team or volunteer base
Some tools might only be needed as a one off – or require one off action to establish – and others will become regular parts of your work in delivering the strategy.
Once you are confident in your audiences and the tools you will use, identify 3-5 SMART targets that will help you further your one core objective. SMART targets are:
If your overarching objective is to increase income from online donations, SMART targets may include:
- Set up charity status on Facebook and secure three Facebook birthday fundraisers by April 2023
- Increase clicks from social media to the website by 10% by December 2022
- Grow average donation size by 10% through suggested donation amounts and improved messaging by December 2023
Once you have a digital fundraising strategy in place with clear SMART targets, ensure that you set up a clear process for reviewing these targets. If you have a staff team, this might be conducted by them, or it may be a new agenda item for the board to consider.
As well as assessing progress against SMART targets, consider whether you need to modify your tools or targets as the strategy gets underway. As you progress along a digital fundraising strategy you will inevitably learn more about your audiences and the processes which work best for your organisation, so be open to adapting the strategy in line with new information.
Consider the following questions:
• How will you keep track of what is working?
• How often will you review performance?
• How will findings influence future strategy?
• Is there capacity in staff teams or board meetings to consider this, or is new capacity needed?
As well as evaluating performance of SMART targets, it is important for whoever is involved in actioning your digital strategy to adopt a “test and learn” based approach. One of digital’s key strengths is the ability to try different things out easily and see what works: for example, you might segment your audience and try two different sets of email messaging to see which has the best results.
Best of luck with writing, enacting and evolving your digital fundraising strategy. Everyone starts somewhere, and digital can be valuable for all organisations. It will take reflection and learning to optimise, but you can make it worth it for your organisation.
Please attribute as: "How can we use digital to improve our fundraising (2022) by David Johnson supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0