Digital trends for charities in 2016

Charities are aware of the potential for digital to help them connect with their supporters and beneficiaries. Yet the opportunities for real innovation have moved beyond the next campaign or fundraising activity to how charities operate at their core. So where should they focus their strategic digital efforts in 2016?

Later this month I’ll be speaking at an event about digital trends hosted by CharityComms, alongside leaders from the sector. We’ll be looking at how charities can harness digital to respond to some of the sectors biggest challenges such as delivering digital transformation in their organisation, re-building trust with supporters, adapting communication and fundraising methods for digital natives.

Here’s some of the trends that will be presented at the event.

Think product, not website

We’re yet to see the real impact of digital on how charities deliver products and services. To reach new audiences online Chris Thorn, head of digital at British Heart Foundation, says: “Now is the time to develop digital products that meet specific objectives or challenges. I’ve set a challenge for the senior leaders at the British Heart Foundation to look at how we can use digital technology to meet the specific needs of their target audiences and expect some exciting new digital products and services to be developed over the coming years to transform the way we interact with our beneficiaries and supporters.”

Cashless society

With the introduction of the digital collection box Matthew Patten, CEO at Mayor’s Fund for London, will be exploring how charities can use the ability to collect change electronically to engage with their supporters. Matthew says: “Charity fundraising has been making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Digital collection boxes, which actively put donors in control of data and channels of communication, could be the key that unlocks happy, engaged and generous supporters.”


Cultivating relationships offline is important for online success says Marie Campbell, Deputy Programme Director at Greenpeace UK: “Finding ways to bring your audience into the heart of your real world activities can deepen their connection with you as an organisation. It can encourage people to do more, give more, care more. Not only that, if you're a campaign organisation, finding ways to bring your supporters faces, words and voices to your target's doorstep can have a visceral impact on decision-makers beyond what's possible in the solely digital sphere.”


The online experience brands can offer their supporters is increasingly personal. Diabetes UK now provides content that is relevant to the user’s type of diabetes, their age, and diagnosis date. Said Dajani, head of digital at Diabetes UK, has been exploring how much control they can and should offer users over this process. “Trialling personal online journeys has been central to our digital strategy to ensure people with different types of diabetes can find information that’s relevant to them. In the future we will be looking into personalising regional content, giving people local information based on their postcode.”

Developing digital trust

Recent reports by the Charities Aid Foundation suggest the blockchain could revolutionise charitable giving and help to rebuild the public’s trust in charities. Damien Austin-Walker, head of digital at vInspired, agrees: “This new technology is about much more than bitcoin – this model of a decentralised digital record could have huge implications for online trust and transparency. It can provide a foundation for concepts including smart contracts and autonomous validation of all kinds of transactions, including transfer of assets or even volunteering time. Some charities have begun to use the bitcoin in their fundraising and I’ll be looking at how vInspired and the sector can take advantage of the blockchain in 2016.”

Virtual reality vs virtual fiction

Ashleigh Adair, head of digital strategy at Forster, believes the potential for charities to use virtual reality to offer access to the people and causes they’re working for is a trend not to ignore: “People are becoming numb to fundraising that uses traditional content to tug at heart strings. Augmented and virtual reality gives non-profits the technology to reconnect with people by giving them an immersive experience that triggers the empathetic brain. Imagine being able to transport yourself virtually to a loved one in hospital to offer them comfort, or to experience what it’s like going through everyday life for someone who suffers from anxiety, for example.”

Emailing smarter

Our old friend email is anything but dead. Rhiannon Sullivan, UK director at Care2, will explore the ever increasing ROI and impact for email in 2015 and the importance of email when developing your digital strategy. Rhiannon says: “Email is action orientated, not passive. A top tip for 2016 is to use permission-based online communities to grow your email list, keep it relevant, segment, and avoid cross posting on similar channels. Target emails accordingly.”

Breaking out of our bubbles

The future of our campaigns and our sector depends on reaching beyond our social media comfort zones, says Joe Hall, but how do we do this? "A majority of the British public quietly back many charities' causes – but frequently we only mobilise a small niche,” he says. “That has to change. With shifting political sands, increasing social fragmentation – especially online – and an urgent need for support for charities' work, now more than ever we need to engage with a wider group of people."

Digital leadership is changing

What are the skills needed to drive digital transformation, and what do digital leaders need to think about? Eva Appelbaum, Partner, Digital Talent @ Work, says: “There are certain leadership styles that are emerging as best suited for transformation: being curious and ready to try new things, while also being accountable and able to step into ambiguity. Being collaborative, able to see situations from multiple perspectives, and exercising power through influence rather than command and control. Successful 'digital transformers' commonly have these traits. They will take on challenging roles, sometimes without adequate resource and support, and make the impossible happen. What they must watch-out for is that they do not burn themselves out. They are generally not complainers, but need to remember not to drive change at the expense of their own well-being!"

You can follow the event live on Periscope on Thursday 28 January.

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