Charities are increasingly under the spotlight as they struggle to gain a competitive advantage against the current economic, political and technological backdrop. So what can you do in 2020 to differentiate?
Of the donors we surveyed for this guide, 50% said that “no promise of where my money goes” would put them off donating to a charity. Of those that have never donated, 33% cited “no promise of where my money goes” as the reason why, with an additional 16% saying it’s because they do not trust charities.
The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), stated there had been a clear downward trend in donations since 2017, a period during which the charity sector was rocked by scandals.
Benefactors think that overheads are absorbing almost half of their donations, with many believing most of the money goes towards staff, offices, and marketing. With only a third of the best-known charities being transparent about senior pay, there is certainly an opportunity to be bold and take the lead.
Charities must be accountable which means being responsible for, and able to explain, clarify and justify actions and decisions.
"The public want greater authenticity not just more transparency, they want to know that charities are what they say they are. And conversely: when they see actions and behaviours that are inconsistent with a charity's purpose and values (for example in fundraising or protecting staff and beneficiaries), their trust is undermined" - The Charity Commission for England & Wales
St John’s Ambulance has a whole page on their website dedicated to “where your money goes” and breaks it down for every £1 spent.
In a report conducted by YouGov, St John’s Ambulance came 1st in over 130 UK charities for The Most Popular Charities. What correlation does this have with how honest they are? It seems that being transparent with your donors, and potential donors, is the way to create trust and develop a good reputation, and therefore increase the likelihood of getting donations. https://yougov.co.uk/ratings/politics/popularity/charities-organisations/all
According to Blackbaud, Millennials donated £2.7bn to charities this year, making them the largest donor cohort in the country. Other research by the Charity Commission shows that Millennials value trust above all else, and their relationship with charities is embedded in their online experience.
However, competition for online brand recognition has never been more fierce, and traditional charities are struggling to differentiate themselves not only from the digital-savvy newcomers, but from their peers in such a crowded landscape.
Understanding which channels your donors prefer is vital as the sheer number available can overwhelm and put people off.
Millennials spend over 26 hours a week consuming online media, six of those being on social platforms. 39% of Millennials and Gen Z research charities via social media, so invest in a strong social media presence to grab them. Millennials are much more likely to respond to something they feel part of, so encouraging them to join in on campaigns with shareable Instagram stories or viral challenges on TikTok will prove more successful.
Contactless payments, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Facebook donations became common practice in 2019. What are we doing to stay on top of future trends? There are a number of ways and it starts at home. Having a culture of innovation and sharing within your charity is paramount. Engaging with external specialists can also be a great way to invigorate your digital experience for donors.
Understanding your audience through user research is imperative.
We don’t believe that traditional demographics and user personas are the best way to understand your users. To reach a fundamental understanding of your users, you have to understand their motivation and this can go beyond age, gender or socio-economic background.
You need to understand individual user stories, what motivates them, what they are trying to achieve and how can you help them do it.
For example, you could have two Amnesty International activists who campaign for Women's Rights. Their age, identifying gender, sexual orientation, where they live and where they work, could be completely different, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are both motivated to stand up for Women's Rights.
For example, you could have two Extinction Rebellion activists, one who is 25, trans-gender from Lewisham and one who is 75, female from Rotheram, both have very different backgrounds but their motivation is the same to try to avoid irreversible climate change.
Understanding this distinction is key to understanding how to reach your users, speak to them about what they want to hear and inspire them to take action.
Understanding the ‘why’ is the most important stage of user research, next you need to work to understand ‘what’ they want to achieve and finally ‘how’ you can help them do this.
Once you have defined the different users’ motivation, you need to research the mood, device, location and environment that the different users could be in.
Only once you understand this, can you start to define a marketing strategy.
From here, any marketing needs to be relatable. Not everyone will have been affected personally by your cause, so, how are you going to encourage them to donate?
Organisations with purpose
Consumers are no longer making decisions based solely on what you offer; they’re assessing what a brand says, what it does and what it stands for. They support companies whose brand purpose aligns with their beliefs. And they reject those that don’t.
What a charity is ‘doing’ is essentially its purpose. Donors, and potential donors, are no longer satisfied with you carrying out what you say you are. They expect you to still tick the boxes in the areas of reducing your carbon footprint, reducing waste, and more. For example, if your purpose is to find a cure for Alzheimer's, whilst it’s amazing the work your charity is doing, you must ensure it’s not at a cost to the environment. Donors support charities whose purpose, and more importantly, actions align with their beliefs, and reject those that don’t.
Of course, the nature of charity means you have a purpose. What about your carbon footprint? Or your ethical standpoint? Do you ‘do your bit’ for the planet?
Take a look at brands like Toms, Patagonia, BrewDog & Lush Cosmetics. All of their marketing is focused on making impactful change and being part of a community of positive change. Their ‘product’ is secondary.
It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. If it’s monotonous or uninspiring then that’s how your audience will feel about your charity. Brand personality is an often under-utilised tool that strengthens brand engagement for the long-term; a familiar, relatable personality is what audiences are desperate for in a world full of substanceless noise.
First impressions are everything too, so brand messaging has to be a key consideration right at the start of a users interaction so they can be inspired and build trust, particularly when considering parting with money for a cause.
Developing a personality not only helps humanise a brand and encourage interaction, but it ultimately enhances the user's experience and commitment to the brand.
Understanding your users, being transparent and innovative, and leading with your purpose, are sure-fire ways to ensure you are standing out amongst your competitors.
Whilst you may find another charity is also being innovative or working hard to develop their brand personality, you have a different purpose, and you can use that to your advantage.
Group all of these together and you will soon find you’re developing a distinct brand image with a loyal audience, who shares your values.