What are the most important innovations for fundraising? Could it be contactless payments, messaging apps or virtual reality? Fundraising Europe explores a raft of social and technological trends that are changing the way nonprofits raise funds.

Innovation is frequently paired with technological development and understandably so. After all, who could fail to see the potential for fundraising of using social media channels or digital currencies?


But innovation is not about gimmicks or gadgets or even the latest technological developments. The world around us is always changing. Innovation is about working creatively and strategically to maximise fundraising capabilities and meet supporters’ needs within a perpetually changing environment.


What are the latest trends in fundraising innovation?


Contactless Payments

The dramatic increase in the use of contactless payment is shown in Visa’s 2016 Digital Payments Study, which reports that more than half (54 per cent) of European consumers regularly use a mobile device to make payments (up from 18 per cent in 2015).  Contactless is predicted to continue to soar and charities are finding innovative new ways to incorporate the technology, enabling supporters to ‘tap to give’.


One ongoing trial in Amsterdam is seeing the homeless wearing coats fitted with contactless payment LCD screens. With one tap of their card, the public can donate one euro. Donations go directly into an account that is run by a homelessness shelter on behalf of the individual wearing the coat and can be used in exchange for food, shelter or clothing. 


In the UK, Blue Cross dog coats have been fitted with a contactless payment facility and, just this month, Cancer Research UK launched its contactless solar-powered ‘smart benches’, offering mobile charging and free wifi, as well the opportunity to donate.


But does it lead to more donations? In one recent contactless trial, the NSPCC reported that the average contactless donation was three times higher than cash gifts, so the outlook appears promising. 


There are some highly innovative examples of contactless for fundraising, but they are predominantly the preserve of the bigger fundraising organisations and there seems to be some way to go before it becomes more accessible for smaller, community-based charities.


Virtual Reality

Both virtual and augmented reality are being trialled by charities in their fundraising, using computer-generated simulation to help bring the work of the charity to life.


Among many examples of charities using virtual reality in a face-to-face setting is WWF's recent Tiger Experience, which brought London shoppers into a pop-up rainforest inside Europe's biggest shopping centre to gain a better understanding of Bengal tigers' shrinking global habitats and the charity's conservation works. 


Taking the virtual reality experience directly into people’s homes, the UNICEF 360 concept combines a unique mobile phone app and cardboard viewer that is mailed to supporters, enabling people to experience what life is like for vulnerable children in harsh climates and areas of conflict.


Do these enhanced visual effects really make a difference to supporter engagement? In May 2015, Amnesty International UK transported people to a virtual reality Aleppo and the charity reported a 16 per cent increase in direct debit sign-ups from virtual reality viewers. Similarly, WWF's Tiger Experience saw a 50% increase in the number of people signing up as regular donors.


Why is virtual reality so effective? Maik Meid, Fundraising Consultant and Lecturer at the German Fundraising Academy, says: “Virtual reality is one of the most exciting new areas of fundraising. The movies and other inputs work directly in parts of the human brain, where classical fundraising instruments take more time to build the same level of awareness. This way, we can show major donors what a new school build will look like, walk through a refugee camp or visit the jungle.”


Digital Currencies

One of the most potentially universal developments is cryptocurrencies. With world finance experts predicting that digital currencies will eventually replace cash, more charities are now accepting donations by Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum and others.


More than just another way to pay, digital currencies are underpinned by blockchain technology, a decentralised user-maintained public ledger that provides a transparent and secure record of ownership and transactions. This technology provides the opportunity for a fully transparent digital donation record; to track and report back to supporters where cryptocurrencies are used and their impact. Systems such as GiveTrack now enable low-cost secure and direct transfer of digital currencies to good causes in minutes. And with donors looking for increased transparency from charities, digital currencies just may be the answer.


Again, digital currencies are used by a small minority of charities at this stage, but there is huge potential for growth. In CAF’s Report,  Giving Unchained; Philanthropy and the Blockchain, author Rhodri Davies says: "If the predictions of some commentators come true, blockchain technology is going to have a profound effect on the ways in which people and markets operate and interact in the future; and as a result there are likely to be profound implications for the nature of social action.” 


Social Media and Messaging Apps

Charities were quick to catch on to the importance of social media for communicating with supporters. 96 per cent of European NGOs now use Facebook and 82 per cent use Twitter (source: 2017 Global NGO Online Technology Report) to share words, images and video, engaging in two-way conversation with supporters. Although social media has helped charities engage in particular with younger demographics, many are yet to incorporate messaging apps into their communications.


Known for their innovation in the field, JustGiving and charity: water are two that have both successfully integrated messaging apps into their fundraising. Within a year of having introduced the ability for users to share their fundraising page via WhatsApp, JustGiving donors raised over £1 million (€1.16 million) as a result of shares on this messaging platform. Meanwhile, charity: water started handling donations via a bot on Facebook Messenger back in June last year; allegedly the first charity to do so.


At the IoF's Innovative Fundraising for a Digital World Conference and in a recent blog, Beth Kanter, trainer and nonprofit innovator, described messaging apps as “the future of the ask,” encouraging charities to experiment with them. She said: “Start incorporating messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger into your fundraising activity by making social sharing buttons prominent on campaign landing pages.”


Online Payment Functionality

Having embraced the web, the large majority of European NGOs – 98 per cent according to the 2017 Global NGO Online Technology Report – now have a website. Many of those need urgent modernisation and updating, while others – including those of some of the very smallest charities - may feature insightful content, highly sophisticated donation facilities and are well-optimised for mobile viewers.


The fact is that online giving continues to climb and people rely on charity websites to be able to find out what they want to know; to get a feel for who they are and what they do.


Online fundraising, combined with social media, is one of the most cost-efficient forms of income generation, so a good, mobile-optimised website is essential. As was seen in recent weeks with the American Civil Liberties Union raising over $24 million (€25.76 million) in its first 48 hours, when organisations get it right – there is huge potential.


Of course, the ACLU campaign was hardly typical – it tapped into widespread public concern about the US President and his actions within his first week in office. But the point remains that no doubt how vital the cause, organisations need easy, quick, reliable and accessible donation facilities to achieve success. 


But online donation pages can no longer stand in isolation as supplementary giving mechanisms. “The most effective donation pages are so much more than a click to give facility,” says Scott Gray, managing director of payments agency Rapidata. “They integrate with the charity’s fundraising messaging and videos, giving supporters choice in how to give and share, maybe offering live chat to strengthen the engagement and, most importantly, opportunities for charities to access details of supporters in real time so that they can thank them immediately, starting a relationship while the donation is front of mind.”


Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Both online and offline, peer-to-peer fundraising has risen dramatically in popularity in recent years with the public given the freedom to become advocates and fundraisers for the cause; to become the storyteller. The growth of online sponsorship, central donation portals (like JustGiving and Darujme.sk) and crowdfunding platforms means that anyone can fundraise for charity, individuals, social enterprise and more. Online donation platforms have been a particularly important development in parts of Central and Eastern Europe, creating unique opportunities for regular giving where there is no Direct Debit facility.


Charities such as the Dutch Heart Foundation (Hartstichting) are looking at ways of expanding their use of these platforms, testing donation matching schemes or even offering refunds if targets for a set campaign are not met.


Ellen Janssens, Innovation Manager at the Dutch Heart Foundation, says: “Person-to-person fundraising is growing exponentially: People prefer to give to people instead of to big, impersonal brands. But we must be prepared to foster those supporters fundraising for us.”


Kanter adds: “Brainstorm projects suitable for crowdfunding – they should be tangible, and have clear parameters. Then develop a strategy – it’s not enough just to ask.”


Delivering Donor-Centric Fundraising

While donor-centricity in itself is nothing new, there is certainly a renewed focus on what it is that supporters want from charities. How best can organisations build supporter relationships, how can they enhance database functionality, develop trigger communications and digital marketing, so that they can deliver an even better donor experience?


Janssens says: “Donor-centric fundraising, or relationship fundraising, is already front of mind for most of us. We are creating customer journeys for our donors. The challenge is to incorporate the consequences of the other social and technological trends into these journeys.”


Digital marketing strategies and automated communication channels offer opportunities to tailor the supporter’s experience online and offline, triggering timely communications.


Developments such as the My Oxfam App, help ensure that donors can take control of the way that the charity communicates with them and gives them the opportunity to find out more about the charity’s work and the impact of their donations.


Jacob Møllemose, Partner of Agency Scandinavia, says: “We need to look across all channels, and align all our communications around the needs of each supporter and others that are interested in the charity’s work, but haven’t given yet. Relationships with these people may be just as important in the future.


“The beauty of it - both from a fundraising and relationship perspective - is how we make it donor-orientated; not just when it comes to what we want to say, but what they want to know and how we can do it all in a timely way. Successful ‘omnichannel’ fundraising will need all parts of the charity to come together and work towards this shared goal.”


Which innovations are most important for fundraising?

While these are just some innovative trends, there are many more technological and social developments to watch and they bring a multitude of opportunities for fundraising.


Every charity can innovate, but it will mean something different to each one. Lucy Gower, Founder and Director of Lucidity says: “Don’t get side-tracked by bright shiny digital bling. Technology in itself is not innovation.”


She adds: “The innovation is how you make the experience of supporting your charity an enriching one and provide inspiring communications that are relevant to your supporters across all the channels that they use.”


Charities are encouraged to get the whole organisation behind their fundraising programme. Janssens concludes: “To offer first-in-class virtual reality experiences, to take full advantage of the Blockchain capabilities, or swipe-to-donate, the whole charity has to be committed to making it work and understand that it is about adding value. This means cooperation across all parts of the organisation, no more thinking in silos. And it requires leadership: real creative and strategic thinking together with the courage to make some bold decisions.”


For more innovation inspiration, see the case studies showcased at SOFII and the related articles below. Share your thoughts about innovative fundraising via our Facebook page or Twitter.



Related articles:

How to minimise the risk of innovation, Lucy Gower of Lucidity 

Why innovation isn’t always about the new, Sarah Carter of Wisdom Fish