The Digital Evolution Of Charities

The recession has had a profound impact on individuals, families and businesses across the country. Restaurants have closed their kitchens, libraries have dismantled shelves and high streets have suffered enormously. 

Indeed, high street closures have been one of the most widely reported clusters of businesses to lose revenues, with The Daily Telegraph announcing in February of this year that fourteen shops a day were being shut down across Britain. For a sector that relies heavily on physical stores, as well as street donations, to survive charities have suffered immensely; it has been recorded that morale within charities is at an all-time low according to Third Sector.

Whilst it is an especially difficult time to be gaining donations, there is an opportunity for charities to increase awareness of their services via online tools. Online tools are highly effective for reaching a variety of different audiences and spreading messages across multiple platforms. Retail is a good example of an industry that embraces digital evolution, fashioning well branded, easy-to-use websites that use personalisation to tailor and target specific messages and products based on insight from previous purchases and browsing.

Being digitally involved opens up the possibility of reaching much wider audiences. This is almost impossible to do on the streets, as people’s relationship with machine is far greater than that with a stranger in the street, and charities need to make the most of this.

Old habits die hard

Whilst still a successful means of collecting money, chuggers are seen as an annoyance. New rules, enforced by the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, have stressed prevention of ‘street chuggers’ from harassing members of the public. If rules are broken, the charity workers themselves will incur a penalty, defeating the object of raising money for charity.

Therefore, it is time for the third sector to engage with people through the methods they prefer. Online, and more importantly, mobile, is an essential part of the most successful of charities. At first mobile phones were used by top business professionals who could afford the latest gadgets. According to The Communications Market 2012 report by Ofcom, two fifths of adults in the UK now own a smartphone. The report also highlighted that in 2011, 32.6 million mobile subscribers accessed the internet via their mobile device.

Why website wins

In this social media day and age it shouldn’t only be the obvious digital tools such as Facebook and Twitter that are considered by charities to improve their marketing strategies, but also having a well branded, user-friendly website which allows the user to clearly surf and obtain information on mobile devices. A website is a marketing tool, and therefore should be considered as one of an organisation’s most powerful weapons.

With the number of smartphone searches doubling every month , it would be foolish not to consider that people will be trying to access information about organisations whilst on-the-go. Not only must charities consider the proactive user, but also those who find websites by typing key terms in search engines.

Sites like Google do tend to rate website Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) much higher if their crawlers believe the site contains all of the elements of a well-designed website, such as: well-branded, user-friendly and fast response times. Thus, creating a credible website is key for charities who want to be more visible online.

Not all charities are missing the tricks. British Red Cross has recently introduced an app-like experience for mobile users without them needing to download anything. Developed in HTML 5, mobile users can explore the British Red Cross site, as well as locate local stores via GPS – enabling people to find and access British Red Cross information on-the-go. Whilst this might seem like a simple strategy, it’s an effective one which not only refines the experience for the user, but also markets their offline stores via the British Red Cross website.

Therefore charities must start thinking like a business and treat their website as the hub for marketing, customer engagement and transactions. Via a website businesses are able to draw in video, photo and written content, which can again improve the experience for a convergent audience.

Not only is the way that people are searching for information changing, but also the way they consume information. For example, news sites such as the BBC are constantly ensuring they are storytelling through audio, visual and written content to suit the needs of their audiences, who prefer different ways of digesting information.

The dawn of the digital ages have been amongst us for decades, but only recently have businesses seen just how important it is to connect to customers through technology. Charities have the ability to be as successful as retailers, but they must start to develop their online presence now or run the risk of failing to meet the demands and expectations of the public.

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John Simock joined Eduserv in early 2010 and manages its Health, Charity and Education customers. Prior to joining Eduserv, John worked for Computacenter as the Client Manager for a large Government client and for Fujitsu/ICL managing key Partners and System Integrators. John has over 30 years' experience in the IT industry and has a broad range of skills and experience in relationship management, partnering, business solutions and service delivery.