Why going digital is the new way forward for charities and community groups

_ PolicyBee _

It’s hard times in the third sector right now, with the coronavirus pandemic putting a strain on small charities and community groups up and down the UK.

With most fundraisers and events cancelled during and after lockdown, thousands of charities have seen their donations fall off a cliff, at a time when demand for their services has soared.

A toxic combination of cuts, economic recession and fears of a second nationwide lockdown make it easy to see why so many small charities are worried for their future. Fortunately, necessity is the mother of invention, and research by Rapidata shows that charities are actively finding new ways to engage with their audience online.

According to their survey, over two-thirds of UK charities increased their digital communications as a response to lockdown. Of those, 71% increased their use of social media, 62% their use of marketing e-mails, and almost half (46%) their use of online advertising and virtual events.

Promising news. Even so, the switch to digital can be an uphill battle for smaller organisations, especially those that favour face-to-face fundraising and campaigning over online wizardry.

Below, we offer some tips for charities and community groups looking to make the leap, with suggestions for online tools and systems that are cheap, effective and easy to use.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Manage your contacts online

Gone are the days of little black books. Storing your contacts in a customer relationship management (CRM) system means you can track donors and reach out to new ones from the comfort of your kitchen table.

Different systems have different functions, like project management tools, e-mail builders and data analytics. Some CRMs are more costly and time-consuming to implement, so it’s worth doing your research before deciding on one.

For example, HubSpot offers a free basic version, with the option to upgrade to a sales, marketing or customer service bundle, while Salesforce is free for up to ten users and is specifically geared towards non-profits. A social media-savvy option is Salsa, which integrates easily with Facebook and includes a free fundraising app.

Shout it loud and proud

If social distancing, shielding or lockdown rules mean you’re not regularly out and about, attending events or canvassing friends, how will people know what you’re up to?

E-mail, social media and a website are a must; and luckily, there’s plenty of tools to help get you started. Website builders Wix and GoDaddy have an easy drag-and-drop interface, while White Fuse is specially designed for charities, with a built-in contact database and donations platform.

For help with marketing e-mails, Mailchimp is a good bet. You can use it to draft and design e-newsletters, check back on performance and schedule future e-mails.

SurveyMonkey (spot the ape theme) is another great way to reach out to your audience and ask their opinions. Top tip: You can use it to find out how your supporters prefer to be contacted, and which forms of digital channels they most engage with.

As for social media, it’s only effective if you’re monitoring it. Forget ad hoc posts; Lightful helps you schedule your social media, then gives you updates on your performance.

SocialPilot allows you to monitor multiple platforms and is strong on analytics. It even helps to identify ‘influencers’ to help increase your visibility.

Take time out for e-learning

This year’s Digital Charity Skills Report highlighted the need for charity staff and volunteers to brush up on their training, with lack of know-how the second biggest barrier to getting the most out of going digital.

Learning doesn’t have to mean sitting in a classroom, though. The Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI) runs e-learning courses in areas like fundraising and stewardship, while the government-backed Skills Toolkit allows pretty much anyone to build up their digital skills for free, from introductory lessons in social media to a 40hr digital marketing course with Google.

Look out for what your suppliers offer too. Each of our specialist insurance policies for charities and not-for-profits comes with free access to