If someone wanted to support your organisation, could they easily find and click a donate button online? When applying for funding, can you confidently direct funders to your website where all the good work you’ve done is clearly presented? Do your social media channels engage new audiences and keep current supporters involved?
If you answered ‘no’ to those questions then maybe it is time to consider improving your online presence.
Future proofing the VCSE sector
Despite the large, established charities coming on leaps and bounds in digital promotion in recent years, the rest of the charitable sector has been found to be lacking when it comes to raising awareness in an online capacity.
In 2014, the Government’s Digital Inclusion Strategy noted that a third of SMEs don’t have a website, and when the VCSE sector was included, this figure increased to 50%. The strategy also stated that just 28% of VCSE’s have the skills to transact online.
How many times have you been stopped on the street by face-to-face fundraisers only to ask for their details so you can look them up in your own time? When numerous reports of scams posing as charities are in the news, people interested in an organisation want to be able to verify their legitimacy, and the best way to do this is online.
Potential supporters want information on the types of projects you fund and what your strategic goals are. They want to read case studies and testimonials to see real-life examples of how you’re helping real people. Importantly for you, they also want to know how they can get involved through volunteering or online donations.
In today’s digital savvy society, having an online presence (through a website, social media channels, newsletters, apps) that reflects your brand in an easy to digest way isn’t just essential for success, it is expected. In 2016, 82% of adults (41.8 million) in Great Britain used the internet every day or almost every day. This was an increase from 78% in 2015 and more than double the reported estimate of 35% in 2006.
These figures show the rapid pace at which society and the way we do things change. Yet it was reported in the Digital Inclusion Strategy that 11% of organisations say they still have no internet access at all. According to the strategy, those organisations not making full use of being online and building digital capabilities are missing an “£18.8 billion opportunity.” So what is preventing the VCSE sector from keeping up?
The strategy identified the following barriers to getting online:
- Finding the motivation and making the internet relevant to their organisation.
- Wider challenges such as needing to reorganise business processes and systems to benefit from going digital.
- Not having the right skills and capabilities, such as specialist IT knowledge or understanding where to go for the right advice on security can also stop organisations going online.
Benefits of a good website
A poorly designed website, or worse yet, no digital presence at all, can have a damaging effect to your organisation and you wouldn’t even know about it. A potential supporter of your organisation unimpressed with the lack of information of how to get in touch, coming across a blog which hasn’t been updated for three years, or struggling to find how to get involved or donate, could click off never to revisit. Even websites which do have all the information a potential supporter needs can be let down by an archaic or ‘messy’ design.
The pitfalls of not having a user-friendly website are obvious, so what are the benefits?
A clearly designed, user-friendly website and up-to-date social media channels are a relatively cost-effective way of increasing your organisation’s reach to:
- Raise awareness – every charity, voluntary and community group, and social enterprise is essentially competing against other causes to ‘cut through the noise’ and get attention from potential supporters and funders.
- Promote events.
- Engage supporters and maintain a relationship with them beyond a one-time donation or event. For example, emailing a newsletter with future events.
According to statistics in the Digital Inclusion Strategy, a quarter of VCSEs felt that the internet isn’t relevant to them, while over a third of SMEs and VCSEs only use their website for promotion, not selling goods and services, and just 28% of VCSEs have the skills to transact online. The Strategy noted that:
- Over £2.4 billion of charitable donations (26% of the total donated in 2011 to 2012) were made online.
- Charities that can accept donations online, saw a 27% increase in the number of donations they receive.
- In 2013, £2.5 million was raised online from 3.7 million Tweets through social media service Twitter and Just Giving. This was an increase of 448% on 2011.
These figures demonstrate the importance of online access and visibility, particularly when it comes to enabling online donations, for sustainability and success in the VCSE sector.
Examples of best practice
In 2010, to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund (RAFBF) launched an innovative social media campaign which centred on the development of an online 1940s style newspaper.
The ‘1940 Chronicle’ reported daily news of Britain at war from the same day 70 years ago, as though happening in real time, as well as relaying historically accurate stories of five fictional characters through a series of blogs in the guise of diary entries.
The project, which was led by digital marketing agency Reading Room, received a huge amount of attention in the press and on online platforms, where it gained support from celebrities such as Stephen Fry, and eventually won the PR Week award for best in digital and social media.
The results of this innovative project included:
- 83,551 overall visits, 57,307 unique visitors and 26,382 repeat visitors to the campaign site.
- 2,481 Chronicle followers on Twitter.
- 1,623 fans on Facebook.
- 1,457 Twibbon downloads.
- 48,085 mentions across social networks.
Traffic to the RAFBF website increased by 25% which resulted in double the donations for the four-month period of the project.
Why was this project so successful?
- The project had a strong design, clarity in what it wanted to do, and presented a clear message – to raise awareness of the human impact of war to a new generation.
- The content helped engage people emotionally by using well written characters to communicate a strong central idea through daily updates.
- Clear calls to action on how people could engage with the project and help spread the message – for example, asking people to get involved by using the Twitter hashtag, changing their Facebook profile picture to one of the characters, or writing a blog.
- Originality of concept.
How to build or improve your website
- Consider the user experience (UX) – especially important for the VCSE sector that relies on inspiring human compassion to help support a cause, VCSE organisations must treat people like humans. Think about the whole experience of using your website or app, can you find everything easily? Are you engaged by the homepage to find out more? How pleasing does it look, does it make you want to spend time on it?
- Basics first – before trying to do anything fancy, concentrate on the basic design of the website. In 2017 there is no excuse for a poorly designed website that is clunky to use. Concentrate on having the most important information clearly laid out and visible for users to find easily. Use images.
- Be bold – make it obvious what your organisation is, your aims and objectives, the work that you do, how people can help get involved, how they can donate – don’t give your readers an Easter egg hunt to find the information they need!
- Push the donate button – there is no excuse for the lack of an option for people to directly donate money through your website. One of the key learnings from an assessment of the RAFBF Chronicle project was, in future projects, to ensure the donate button is made more prominent earlier in the campaign. Don’t hide away that donate button.
- Don’t neglect your garden – creating a good website isn’t just a one-off activity. Online presence need maintaining to ensure it is a correct reflection of the changing landscape of your organisation. Also things like out of date contact details, or links that lead to error pages are a clear sign of a poorly maintained site, which can lead to a negative reaction from the reader.
- Build emotion – showcase real-life case studies of where your organisation has made a real difference to people’s lives. People like to be shown information, rather than told.
Through the Government’s focus on digital inclusion, support is available to help individuals and organisations who want to develop their digital capability.
Digital inclusion charities such as Citizens Online and the social enterprise Good Things Foundation (formerly the Tinder Foundation) provide front-line support to individuals seeking to gain digital skills. The Foundation supports a network of over 5,000 UK Online Centres, based in libraries, community centres and social housing.
Go ON UK (which trades as Doteveryone) is the UK’s Digital Skills Alliance. They focus on bringing together expertise and efforts from across sectors to work on local problems, rather than providing services directly themselves.
GRANTfinder provides comprehensive details on all digital-related funding and policy.
Support on building your digital strategy is available from Idox’s Reading Room.
By Sarah Perry, Idox