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Making your charity campaign go viral

2014 was a bumper year for charity viral campaigns, with amongst others the hugely successful supporter-led #NoMakeUpSelfie, the touching social story of #FindMike and the inimitable #IceBucketChallenge raising over $100 million worldwide.

Viral Infection

With success stories like those mentioned above, every charity wants to capture similar results with their own viral campaigns.

It’s easy to understand why viral campaigns are so infectiously seductive to charities; because they:

  • Are often cheap (or even free) to produce
  • Led by supporters with peer to peer attribution
  • Generate fundraising
  • Drive engagement in difficult to capture demographics
  • Create “high-volume” PR
  • Create charity brand awareness

So why aren’t we all spending more time developing ideas for viral campaigns?

Some uncomfortable truths

Alongside each one of the massive charity viral campaign successes are tens of other campaigns that fell flat, or at best got a minimal amount of engagement, and the reason for this seems to be clear.

When comparing those campaigns that succeeded and those that failed, it is the supporter-led, grassroots campaigns that create real value.

The truth is, that most viral campaigns are not thought up by a charity comms team or agency, and that aiming for a campaign that will go viral overnight is likely to fail due to a lack of an authentic supporter voice behind it.

In a recent Guardian article Kirsty Marrins, content community manager at JustGiving agrees, saying:

"I don’t believe a campaign started directly by a charity would go as viral as either #nomakeselfie or #icebucketchallenge. Why? Because the success of these campaigns comes from people nominating their friends to take the challenge on – not a charity. If it came from a charity it would probably feel contrived and that would, I believe, put people off slightly."

There will always be exceptions to the rule, but the best chance charities have of success on social is by being agile and responding to an existing meme or emerging social trend, aligning with it and creating an associated charitable action.

Preparing to be spontaneous

The #NoMakeUpSelfie campaign was the first campaign that highlighted how prepared charities, with the ability and cultural freedom to respond to supporter activity could align with supporter actions and drive them in the right direction. Perhaps most importantly, they did this without trying to control something organic.

The #IceBucketChallenge showed us the potential of a viral campaign that is shared across multiple charities globally and it is clear from the activity early in 2015 that this trend is here to stay.

During #TheDress debate that took the internet by storm recently, both Macmillan and the Salvation Army made good use of rapid, shareable creative to generate awareness.

This is the sort of activity that with some foresight, almost any charity can achieve. But if you can’t plan a global viral campaign, what can you do to get a taste of viral success?

Learnings from success

Effective viral opportunities like #NoMakeUpSelfie, #IceBucketChallenge and #The Dress are not campaigns that can (or should) be attempted by charities to initiate or replicate themselves. However, there are some things we can learn from them so that if and when it does happen (on whatever scale) we can be ready.

1. Be ready (and able) to react

You can’t plan for social media ‘happenings’ to occur, social media is always in flux and that brings with it huge opportunities for charities, and sometimes some challenges too. With that in mind, it makes sense to have a general plan of action that is agreed upon to try and reduce the challenges that can occur. This is the difference between attempting to plan for something that may never happen and being ready when it does.

Make sure that being ready means that you can make a decision to join in with an event on social media and move on it quickly. A culture of escalations and sign off procedures will see you left behind, so try and get buy-in on a more general social media strategy; circumvent the need for sign-off when you have to react fast. It’s also important to make sure that you can halt any scheduled social media activity if you need to pivot and react to something ‘big’.

2. Don’t be precious about the message

You have to give up the power of messaging to your supporters during viral events. Embracing the fact that the public are creating their own momentum is really important, trying to stifle or control it may be looked upon as interfering unnecessarily.

This energy can be used instead to congratulate public fundraising efforts, call out and re-publish examples of messaging you like, and to lend organisational expertise and interest to the campaign.

3. Make sure people can donate easily

It sounds simple, but you have to make it as easy for people to donate as possible, using the shortest and most memorable ways to donate.

Make sure that you have a campaign specific text-to-donate number or a link to a campaign specific fundraising form so they are easy to share and fit inside a tweet. Don’t be shy about reminding people of the details as often as possible.

Making text-to-donate and donation form links campaign specific means you can very easily, and very precisely measure the impact of your fundraising activity during a campaign when the opportunity comes along.

4.Nobody knows what the next big thing will be

In all of the major viral campaigns referenced above; #NoMakeUpSelfie, #IceBucketChallenge and #The Dress no charity started it…. the good ones aligned themselves to it, and had supporters who were engaged enough with their charities that they took it upon themselves to fundraise.

The truth is, that although there are a number of things that can be done to ‘help’ a campaign go viral with traditional marketing planning, it’s very likely that the next professional campaign will be started by the person in the street.

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Iteration Zero - Adding project value, right from the start

Since I’ve been on about it to anyone that’d listen (or not) at the moment. I thought I’d write a bit about iteration zero (or sprint zero). I’m more XP than scrum — scrum reminds me too much of cold winters on the rugby field — for me it's iteration zero.


So what is it?

I use iteration zero as a ‘get my ducks in a row’ phase, I’ve seen it described in a number of ways — but what all the descriptions have in common, and the way it differs from traditional iterations is that at the end of it you haven’t got anything to deliver to the client. It is, for me at least, the way of making sure that on day 1 of iteration 1 I’m in a position to start adding value to the project, with everything aimed at delivering value to the client.

To get to that position I need the development team to have a development environment, a good understanding of the goals of the project, and a clear understanding of the processes we’re going to be using for the project.


Understanding the project.

Its hard to build quality software if you don’t know what it is that the client wants, and why they want it. Iteration zero is a great opportunity for the analysts, project managers and clients to communicate with the whole team why this project is happening. And once a development team can understand why .. then you’re on to a winner.

A development team that can see the client in their minds eye, and understand what they’re after will be motivated to solve problems. A development team that understands why will cope with changes to the project far more effectively — they may even be the ones proposing the changes to make it an even better product.

If a developer starts writing code, before knowing why they are writing code, it is an open invitation for complexity, misunderstanding, for ‘muda’ or waste as the ‘lean production’ people categorise it.


Knowing the processes.

This is about how we are going to do things, what's the day to day going to be like on this project. I like to settle on things like code conventions; when we’re going to have the stand up; when are we going to go for demos.. that kind of thing.

Its also good to go over the general approach — build versus buy, design ideas and libraries/language we think might fit for the project.

By this point in the project we’ll have the story cards (hopefully) — another key thing to work through in iteration zero is who knows what , a story card is a place holder for a conversation — reinforcing who there is to have that conversation with when necessary is really useful at a projects inception.

Where understanding the project is about where we’re going — this is more about how we’re going to get there.

If a developer starts writing code before knowing the landscape like this — problems are going to be harder to solve, and take longer to solve. Giving them a clear view at the beginning of the project can only help.


A development environment.

Any software developer needs tools — but the last thing you want is to be building a toolset, and trying to deliver value to the client at the same time. Neither will win.

An even worse situation is to have a contractor start on a project on the monday, and only be able to deliver value by wednesday because they are ‘setting up’.

You need to be able to easily put in a developer's hands the tools to start coding , though some may get a kick out of it, having developers spend time on building servers, downloading IDEs , installing software... is just another form of 'muda' to me. Iteration zero is a chance for a team to make sure they have all they need, to design their development environment and be ready to hit the ground running.

Also really important in iteration zero is to get the build/deploy process nailed. Set up the version control, set up the continuous integration, commission that staging server... everything you need to get going should be in place at the beginning of iteration 1 — that is why iteration zero exists.

In my experience, a good iteration zero goes a long way to helping the success of a project, without it you tend to just experience the frustration of trying to deliver value to the client whilst trying to sort yourself out.

Far better to have a sort out before hand and put yourself on the best footing you can going into a project. Iteration zero doesn’t have to be the same length as your other iterations, but I believe that it should be there.


For more like this, and to receive regular insight from our team, sign up to our email newsletter here.

This article also appears on Tim's personal Medium.

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Behavioural Economics for charitable giving - Part 1

Behavioural economics is a blend of psychology and science that is becoming more and more popular in the design and user experience world. Behavioural economics helps us to predict and harness the often illogical way that people make decisions.

By borrowing from the insights that behavioural scientists are discovering we can make small and simple changes (behavioural scientists call these ‘nudges’) to online user flows to encourage or support users to make more of the decisions we want them to, in most cases for not-for-profit websites, this includes increasing donation amounts or taking campaigning actions.


Asking for less to get more

A big pain point for a lot of charities is the donation sizes when making an ask. The temptation to lower the size of individual donation requests in an attempt to increase the number of donations is seductive, but in reality this can often lead to low fundraising levels. The flip-side of this is that asking for large donations can alienate those who are only able to give a small amount, which in-turn leads to low numbers of individual donations.

Some interesting research was run in this area by Robert Cialdini and David Schroeder, behavioural scientists who ran an experiment to test two donation asks. The basic ask being:

  • ‘I am collecting money for the American Cancer Society. Would you be willing to help by giving a donation?’

a secondary ask had the addition of the phrase:

  • ‘Even a penny would help’.

The small addition of the ask increased the number of contributions from 29% to 50%. Perhaps most interesting though is that even though the donation ask was effectively reduced to around a penny, the average donation size didn’t reduce.
This is an example of what behavioural scientists call ‘lowering the subjective norm’ by making it acceptable to give only a small amount without asking directly for a small amount. This example is linked to another behavioural theory called ‘anchoring’.


Anchoring donations

Anchoring works by setting a precedent for a donation amount by displaying figures to donors before they donate, the result being that there is an increase in the final donation amount.

This technique is most frequently used in donation grids (where donors are given an option of a number of different donation amounts to choose from). 
In research by Arnaud De Bruyn & Sonja Prokopec a variety of donation grids were tested to see what the effect of the rate of increase on donation grids was.
The standard donation grid used the following values:

  • 100 € | 120 € | 150 € | 200 € | Other amount

With a new grid tested with donation amounts from 120 € - 200 € the donation amount increased by an average of nearly 4%, in a grid tested at donation amounts between 150 € - 530 € the average donation increased by an average of nearly 9%.

It is important when setting anchors on donation forms that the values are realistic for the target audience though, and that they are carefully chosen. 

A grid using values from 20 € - 320 € was tested and reduced the donation amount by over 6%. This is most probably explained by a phenomenon called ‘extremeness aversion’. In this case the increase across the grid was probably too steep, with the 20 € amount anchoring the donation amount too low, making a 320 € donation feel comparatively very high.

The research also noted that the effect anchoring had on donors was significantly reduced if they had already donated before because once a donor is comfortable with a particular level of donation, they are likely to continue to donate at that amount.


Dynamic inconsistency

This brings us neatly to the side of ’dynamic inconsistency’ which describes the way that a decision-maker’s preference will often change over time. 

This sounds like a problem, but it can be used to our advantage, specifically when using fundraising thermometers (visual percentage bars of money raised against the total target like those used by JustGiving) on our fundraising efforts. 

In research conducted by Dean Karlan and John List around the difference seed money in fundraising made, they found that having a higher percentage of a total target displayed increased donation:

  • at 10% of target achieved, the average donation was about $15
  • at 33% of target achieved, the average donation was $26, and
  • at 67% of target achieved, the average donation was almost $40.

The research also found that there were fewer small donations when a large percentage had already been achieved, and large donations (defined as over $20) were received more frequently.

Karlan and List’s explanation of these results is that people are more psychologically rewarded when they can add £10 to £470 of a £500 target, than an initial £10 at the start of the fundraise.


Simple, small changes for effective results

The examples above show just a selection of clever behavioural economics tricks that can help charities maximise fundraising revenues in easy to implement, cost effective ways.

When a change as simple as the wording of a donation ask, or editing the presentation of options on a donation form can have such marked effects on donations online, testing behavioural ‘nudges’ on charity websites is a no-brainer.

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Positive at Web Summit 2015

Web Summit 2015 centre stage

In early November this year Positive joined 22,500 digital, tech and startup community members descending on Dublin to meet, learn, pitch and enjoy the city’s famous hospitality over 3 days. With guest appearances by U2’s Bono, Eva Longoria, Rio Ferdinand and Lily Cole the Dublin Web Summit is one of the biggest and best digital and marketing events in the calendar.

With 100s of speakers over the 3 days, all leaders in digital, marketing, tech and entrepreneurship there was a lot to plan, see and absorb, so we have distilled a few of our favourite insights and take aways below:


Going Viral

We are often asked how to ‘make things go viral’ and unfortunately there is no real answer to this, but some excellent insight in how to make a viral result more likely came from Sarah Wood of Unruly. Unruly, who provide a platform for social video advertising to brands, conducted research to measure the factors that influence the share success of content.

“One of the key triggers, statistically, for sharability is emotional intensity.”Unanimously they have discovered that the more emotionally engaging a piece of content is, the more likely it is to be shared. This emotion can be happiness, sadness, surprise or even revulsion, the stronger the emotional response, the more likely content is to get shared.


Lorraine Twohil - Google

One of the stand out talks of the entire conference was from Lorraine Twohill, Global VP of Marketing at Google Ireland, who was recently named Adweek’s Grand Brand Genius of the year.

Lorraine has an extraordinary way of making the very very complicated sound extraordinarily simple. When asked her first question: “What is Marketing?” her response was great:

“Marketing for us is all about understanding the audience and their needs. We want to make people think and feel human. Google is all about mashing up the art and the science told through story telling.”

Lorraine went on to show some of the work she is most proud of including this classic ad “Parisian Love” for Google search from 2009, summing up her quote above perfectly and getting huge applause from the crowd.


Data Driven Creativity

Norm Johnston, Chief Digital Officer from Mindshare gave a really interesting talk about the data driven future of advertising and creativity.

With so much discussion around “big data” within marketing and web at the moment there are question marks around where creativity comes into place, but Norm Johnston argued:

“With the insights we have on our customers, creative teams can find groundbreaking ways to get in front of prospective clients.”

Norm gave a great example of how we can use data to target creativity in this Cisco ad that uses realtime traffic speed data to change the creative and copy in a billboard ad, personalising it to the audience.

He also showed an example of how underground train data was used in a very powerful digital advert ‘A hair raising message’ for Swedish Cancer Charity Barncancer Fonden.

In Summary Overall, there was a clear theme that emerged from Web Summit this year. The specialties of digital strategy, creative and technology are becoming more and more entwined. This is an approach that we adopt enthusiastically at Positive.

Not only does this approach allow us to be more creative and provide more insight, it allows us to be truly effective and measurable against the objectives of all of our clients.

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A look at the End7 digital campaign

Here at Positive we constantly seek effectiveness within our agency, the charity sector and our digital work. This week we came across a particularly remarkable campaign for End7 by Wunderman London, which proved some noteworthy results.

The campaign

The End7 campaign was based on the premise that often people are either desensitised or turn away from charity adverts that show disturbing images. In order to re-engage an audience that was shutting off and migrating online, End7 hit YouTube and approached things from a new angle. The short video showed celebrities reacting to footage of diseases that affect some of the poorest people in the world. The video cuts to show the viewer what they saw and then back to the celebs underlining exactly how the viewer can help the cause.

The results

  • Within a week the video received over 300,000 views (200,000 for the US/100,000 for the UK version).
  • It was ranked #5 on YouTube’s list of ‘Most Popular on the Web’.
  • Globally viewers watched more than 400,000 minutes of the video with 75% of viewers watching more than two minutes, proving people were not leaving the video quickly but engaging.

Most importantly, within a week the video generated £60,000 of donations (an average of 20p per view). This can treat and protect 120,000 children from all seven diseases for a year. This is a remarkable ROI considering the video cost £20,000 to produce in total.

Our thoughts

  • Reaching out to viewers on their terms was the best approach; meeting them on platforms they use (YouTube, Facebook and Twitter) put the cause at the doorstep of their target audience, allowing them to also share the campaign freely.
  • Celebrity promotions are popular and showing their reaction stirred curiosity, promotion and advocacy for the cause. From a digital perspective, each celebrity in the video will have their own online presence and following online. Celebrity reputations can help springboard campaigns into the limelight.
  • The charity showed how a realistic contribution could seriously help end seven horrific diseases which plague those in severe destitution and poverty. Unlike many open ended epidemics, the charity showed how a meagre donation could end the problem by a targeted date, 2020.
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Kate S

How volunteering offers additional insight

As Project Manager here at Positive I work with many inspiring charities to develop their digital comms, whether that’s a new website, email campaign or full digital strategy. I also volunteer for several charities, which gives me a unique perspective on how digital can be used from both sides: knowing the needs of the charity, and also who they are hoping to engage with.

I’ve been a volunteer for many years and really love the opportunities that it gives me – the chance to meet so many different people, be involved with new experiences and support a great cause at the same time. Digital has an ever-increasing role to play – I’ve been a volunteer for Make a Wish for almost ten years now and since they launched their online Intranet this has become even easier. At the click of a button I can say whether I am free to help and download the latest documents: for the head office team it’s invaluable when co-ordinating volunteers country-wide. Regular emails keep me up to date, and they actively use Facebook and Twitter to support their volunteers, which is also a great way to showcase the breadth of activities people are involved with.

An online volunteer network is in the pipeline too which will be a great way to stay connected to my fellow volunteers – the team element of volunteering is often why people get involved. The many digital channels are great for organising fundraising events, training weekends and socials – all arranged by email/Facebook with little effort. Online is also where I find out about potential new volunteering opportunities or see an event I want to be part of. Being able to quickly research the charity and find out more about what they do and how I can be involved is really important. It’s often where I initially apply to be a volunteer too, with varying standards of forms and documentation! Often the first impression I get of how the charity is run, these are key too: being a volunteer relies on internal support and organisation so this detail shouldn’t be overlooked.

When I mention that I volunteer, people often think it takes a lot of time but this is really dependent on the voluntary work you choose. Kids’ camp this summer for the Youth Adventure Trust took a full week, but that’s my commitment for the year. Make a Wish is usually 1-2 hours at a time in the evening, and can simply be declined if life just gets too busy. There may be people for whom a regular commitment of volunteering at a certain time once a week fits in better, but for me the flexibility is key. Making it clear to potential volunteers just how they can help, and how the volunteering can fit around them, would show how people can get involved on their terms.

I also think it is important to identify the different ways volunteers can help, so that it appeals to their interests and means they can avoid areas they don’t enjoy – volunteering has to be something you really want to do. All my volunteering is focused on events and experiences – helping out in a charity shop, making presentations or cold calling people to raise funds just isn’t for me so I wouldn’t have the motivation to do this, but offer me the chance to meet inspiring children or join an adventure camp in Wales and I’m there!

Digital has an important part to play in recruiting new supporters so a few thoughts on what I think should charities should consider:

  • Be clear what the commitment will be: once a week every week for an hour, once every six months for a weekend. That way people can see how it could work for them. 
  • Identify the skills and interests that might suit certain roles, so people understand the breadth of opportunities available. Volunteering can be a really great way of pursuing interests that the day job doesn’t allow. 
  • Include case studies from volunteers currently involved to show the broad range of people, skills and roles. 
  • Be professional in your approach to documentation – it’s an insight into how organised and professional you will be to work with. People are giving their time for free and like to know this will be valued and used effectively. 
  • Use digital to keep volunteers informed but not overwhelmed – it’s essential to keep them engaged with the results of their hard work, but keep emails to the point and let the website showcase the full stories. 
  • Use social media to create a volunteer network – a great way to find out locally what’s going on, keep people engaged and make new friends.

Volunteering is something I find hugely rewarding – it gives me the opportunity to do something I enjoy that I otherwise wouldn’t get chance to do, to meet new people and have unforgettable experiences. It’s allowed me to develop skills and try new things: being part of a team, working with likeminded people and supporting a good cause at the same time. A great way to spend time and have lots of fun: the only question is what can I do next? Best get online and see what’s out there…

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Kate S

Lessons from Africa is Highly Commended at the Charity Times Awards

Great news! The Lessons from Africa website we developed with Send a Cow was Highly Commended at the Charity Times Awards in the 'Best use of the web' category.

The Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony was held at the Lancaster London Hotel, with Send a Cow's Community Fundraising Manager Karl Gwilliam on hand to accept the award. The Awards continue to be the pre-eminent celebration of best practice in the UK charity and not-for-profit sector, and the objectives have remained consistent since their inception:  

  • To honour the outstanding professionals in the many and varied fields of charity management  
  • To support continuing professional development and contribute towards raising the standards of charity management
  • To promote and raise the profile of the charity sector  
  • To provide recognition for those who are providing effective support to the sector

Fantastic to be recognised alongside other such esteemed charities. Congratulations all round!

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Kate S

Design tips for an effective charity homepage

Here are some helpful tips to consider the next time you re-design your charity site homepage.

Information overload

Keep content short, concise and essential. The homepage is the face of your website: it should represent who you are and provide just enough detail to explain what you do. Bite-size chunks of impactful copy are much more effective than paragraphs of text – a short punchy sentence explaining who you are is perfect. Keeping the users attention is vital so don't make life hard for them. Provide them with just enough content up front and allow them to access more (if they want to).

For some charities a re-design can become a department battleground. Each department fight for prominence, the objectives get lost and ultimately it gets designed by committee. Try to fight against organisation politics and adopt a user-centered approach to the re-design.

Predict the user journeys

Typically a user will arrive at your website looking for something specific. During the Information Architecture (IA) phase, a basic card sorting exercise can help the project team assign items to your homepage. This group consensus approach will allow you to predict the users’ motivations and answer the questions they are asking on arrival. Use motivating copy for promo titles, such as ‘Want to get involved?’ and ‘Looking for last years’ results?’. An encouraging tone of voice can keep up momentum and ultimately keep the user engaged with your site a bit longer.

Confusing social media

It’s important to use your social media buttons correctly. ‘Like’ and ‘Tweet’ should be in areas worth sharing, such as news articles and blog posts. The generic/logo social media buttons should then be used to connect to the channels themselves, and heavily promoted if your charity has a vibrant social offering.

Also, don't disguise the channel buttons too heavily with your own branding – the user should be able to identify these links at a glance. For most charities social media is the best way of connecting with their supporter groups so make sure the buttons aren’t hidden!

Not too many sad faces

Emotive photography is great, after all an image speaks a thousand words. Use positive and uplifting images to encourage users to help and be part of the solution instead of moody, sad images that attempt to guilt them into donating.

Don't hide the facts

If you've got great facts on how donations are used bring them to the homepage. Most users would want to know how their money will be spent so don't burry the facts and research away in the deepest darkest areas of the site. 

Tiny images 

Don't go too small with your thumbnail promo images – it's always going to be difficult to use an engaging image effectively that's under 100 pixels. Save the beautiful photography for the detail pages and free up some white space in the page instead

In second place comes…donate

Most charities make the donation call to action the most prominent item on their homepage but infact the donate button should come a close second to the charities elevator statement.

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