Success with digital means being at the epicentre of technology, behaviour and impact, says Paul de Gregorio, director of digital engagement at Open. Here he shares his tips on how charities can mobilise support through digital channels.


The challenge for charities is to use digital techniques to deliver fundraising activity that will resonate with the donors of today and move them to act.


Essentially, this means fusing the very best creative and strategic thinking with technology that will drive response and engagement. We must tap into existing human behaviours (rather than trying to change them) and think how to maximise the use of existing technologies rather than build new technologies, which is expensive and risky.


With this in mind, how can we mobilise support through digital channels?


Think mobile

Mobile phones! We’ve all got one, we all keep them close and we are increasingly dependent on them for all aspects of our private, professional and social lives. In fact, I’d go so far to say that some of us are obsessed with our phones. In the UK, typically we look at them around 150 times a day. It sounds incredible, but it’s true.


If you don’t look good on a mobile you might as well not exist. Expectations for user experience on a mobile are set at a very high level and if you don’t provide a good experience, your existing or potential supporters may look elsewhere and give to the charity that makes it easier to give.

Focus on community

We seem to be reaching a phase in fundraising where some traditional channels are not as well received by the public as they once were: in the UK and in other places for example we have seen a public reaction against telemarketing and face-to-face fundraising. As we strive to establish other fundraising models, the use of digital techniques to build online community and enable engagement is an approach many charities are set to start testing.


Having the internet in our pocket means we’ve become a content hungry species. Essentially, we need to provide thumb-stopping content that inspires our crowd. And we need to explore how we can use authentic, real, fun, and inspiring content to create and grow a sense of community that will harness the inherent power and connectivity of social media to drive change.


Humans of New York, is a fantastic example of this, featuring photos and stories of 10,000 New Yorkers. The project has attracted a huge following on social media, including more than 17 million Facebook followers. Brandon Stanton, the founder, activated his crowd and was able to raise 1.4 million US dollars in less than 20 days when he met Vidal a young boy from NYC and wanted to help with a project that would show Vidal and others what was possible in life.


This goes to show that truly engaging content can quickly build a community or crowd online, which has huge potential for fundraising.

Integrate messaging apps with traditional social networks

The fact is that the use of messaging apps is now overtaking our use of traditional social networks. Instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are rapidly growing. Charities need to consider the messaging platforms that will drive the highest levels of reach, engagement and interaction, and how best to integrate these messaging platforms with other communications (digital and otherwise).


A fantastic example of this is how MSF uses social platforms in the field to report back on their work. The charity communicates with supporters via WhatsApp and a brilliant Twitter feed focused on the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean that updates directly from the boats that are rescuing people from the sea.


Increasingly, charities are using chat bots to engage with the public and provide a more personalised but deliverable supporter experience. You can see our most recent example for Unicef’s World Children’s Day here.


Understand how social media is changing

The potential for fundraising via social media is changing. The power of Facebook alone is phenomenal, particularly now Facebook Donate is available in 16 European countries. Integrating Facebook Live and Donate means any charity has the ability to ‘go live’ whenever they have something to say – and provide a seamless way to give without users even leaving the platform.


But we can’t raise money without an audience, so a key focus for fundraisers is still the creation of great content and engaged communities online so we have the crowd to crowdfund from.


Make it easy

And we need to make giving fast and easy: once we have moved someone to give, the actual act of giving should be as simple as possible. Enable mobile payments and make it frictionless to make a donation on the small screen or risk losing revenue.


We have seen incredible technologies that make giving easy deployed in the US presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Strategies were focused on getting that first (often low value) donation and connecting the vaulted credit card to an email address or mobile phone number. This meant securing that all-important second donation later in the campaign was as simple for the donor as hitting a button in an email or replying to an SMS message. (Think Amazon one click).


Applying these technologies for ‘one click’ donations and the introduction of Facebook fundraising tools to other markets could be transformational in terms of strategies for mass mobilisation and product development – and the use of email in fundraising.


We need to place equal focus on making giving as easy as possible for donors as we do on developing the creative, content and messaging to use in these tools. If we do, we will surely create a successful and exciting new phase of fundraising innovation. 


About Paul de Gregorio
Paul de Gregorio is the director of digital engagement at Open. He has worked with many UK and international charities and membership organisations including Cancer Research UK, ACLU, Humane Society of the United States, Amnesty International, Oxfam, Greenpeace, WarChild, The Labour Party, UNICEF UK, Save the Children and Friends of the Earth - to deliver fundraising and campaigning activity that inspires people to take action. He tweets, blogs & curates an email newsletter focused on the intersection of fundraising, campaigning, politics and technology.