I’ve  been spending some time recently looking at international development and how digital technology is helping transform what INGOs will be able to deliver.  And yesterday, I talked about some of the findings of that work at the annual Bond Conference.  I was there in great company, with sessions from Blue State Digital  and Mike Walton from UNHCR presenting.  I thought I’d share my slides and, to make sense of them, my notes.


1 – intro


I thought I would start today’s session by framing some questions – what will good look like in digital fundraising five years from now? Will it look like optimised landing pages and AB testing or will it be something different? And if it is something different what are you doing now to move towards that?
2 – Information repository + donate
The web is no longer a bright young thing, it’s been with us in the sector for around 20 years. So it’s odd that we still talk about ‘digital fundraising’. It’s a sign, I think, of how far we still have to go.

This is the first charity website I ever worked on. I arrived at Help the Aged back in around 2001 and this was their website. Like most charity websites at the time it was an information repository with a donate button. I had arrived from the more aggressive world of newspaper publishing and the charity was, in comparison, in the dark ages.

And in the years since then digital has changed everything. Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Alphabet (Google’s parent company), talks about three powerful trends that have totally shifted the playing field, they are:

  • Information is free and copious
  • Mobile devices have made global reach widely available
  • Cloud computing has put practically infinite resource at everyone’s disposal

Consumers now have endless choice and with so much choice, if you provide a bad service then you can expect to get bad reviews online and for that to hurt your business. And that has shifted the focus onto the product. Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder, said “In the old world you spent about 30% of your time building a great service and 70% of your time shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.”

But this is not really reflected in my experience of charity. I have not yet seen a charity wiped out by a digital start-up. But I think if we look a bit closer you can see that the change is now all around us. Many charities I talk to have a donor audience that is ageing and there is an erosion of trust in the sector, despite the fact that we are doing what we have always done. Or, in my view, because we are doing what we have always done.

And even though your site may have moved on from the very groovy 2001 incarnation of the Help the Aged site, you may well still see digital as a channel for your messages. It is still the information repository with the donate button.

I want to give you a very brief snapshot of how digital has changed.

3 – Global usage

This graph from We Are Social’s recent report shows just how much things are changing around the world. And it’s a fairly safe bet that these numbers will continue to rise.

4 – Global usage

This slide, showing the rate of growth in Africa, is one that I think could have major implications. We can see growth of 25% in the number of active social media users. What that means is that now when we talk to donors online about the developing world there will be people in the room who can speak for themselves. That will change the whole way that conversation can be had and who will be in it.

5 – In the same room

This is an example of that. The Indian Media were accused of insensitive reporting of the Nepal earthquake and this hashtag collected 144k Tweets.

6 – Tech

How we access the web has changed to.

I love this image, it shows the rapid change in technology over the last 15 years.   I remember getting that iMac and thinking it was beyond exciting. The first generation Apple Watch has four times the RAM of the 2000 iMac.
This trend is set to continue and that’s the future we need to plan for.

7 – Growth of digital

The pictures are of the crowds outside the Vatican for the announcements of Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.

So we know that digital has changed a lot, what has it done for digital fundraising and particularly in an international context.

Recently I spent some time looking at how digital had been used around crisis situations and particularly around the Nepal earthquake and I’d like to share some of the findings from that.

Oxfam and BRC

These are fairly recent screenshots of two of the UK’s biggest charities showcasing their work in Nepal and this was outside of the campaign period. Both organisations have produced what I think we would expect of them and I could show you many similar examples.

But it’s perhaps more interesting to look at what happened outside of these efforts and try to understand what that is telling us.

9 – #WeHelpNepal

This is the organisation I donated to during Nepal.   This is a network of people who live in Nepal who set up a fund to support local NGOs on the ground. This is something that couldn’t have happened a few years ago – as this organisation wouldn’t have been able to get the international reach – but that has changed now they can have a direct voice.

They raised $552k and they have been great at keeping in touch and letting me see very clearly how that money has been spent. You can see the pie chart detailing exactly which local organisation got what.

10 – How People Donated

Crowdfunding sites were another way that local NGOs and organisations were able to reach out directly to a wider audience. And again, there was a good focus on transparency.

The other thing that was a bit of a theme is that the large tech providers offered an avenue to donate via their own tools to third sector partners. So, here we can see iTunes and the American Red Cross.

11 – Tech Companies offering an avenue to donate

And in Ebola, we can see that Facebook supported three charities.

And as the big tech companies are based in the US that has implications for organisations that do not have a major presence there.

12 – Disintermediation

We talked at the start about how digital was disrupting industries and the underlying drivers of that. One of them was access to information no longer being scarce and that has driven what is known as disintermediation – literally the removal of intermediaries from the supply chain.

Here are some organisations which have used digital to disintermediate the charity and enable you to give direct to a person.

Kiva enables you to loan directly to entrepreneurs around the globe.

Give directly – you send money direct to a person who receives a message via their mobile.

Givology is a peer-to-peer lending marketplace that lets you fund educational projects around the globe. Peer-to-peer is also lovely language and feels very different to ‘donor’ and ‘beneficiary’.

All of these organisations, founded in the digital era, show us how charity is evolving and all using ways of working that are really enabled by digital.

13 – Effective Altruism

Information being free and copious has, I would suggest, led us to being a more data driven society – we like to shop around now before we make decisions. I’m sure most of you Google stuff before you buy it.

And that trend I think is reflected in the move to becoming more impactful in our giving, we want to make smart decisions or at least not dumb ones. The sites we just saw were quite focussed on that. A social movement has also formed around that idea, called Effective Altruism. They aim for compassion guided by data and reason.

So what might we take from all of this?

14 – The future doesn’t look like the past

Digital is here. It is not going to go away. In fact, it is going to become faster, smaller and more ingrained into our every day lives.

So we need to really understand what it means to be meeting our mission in a digital age and not simply how we can use digital as a fundraising channel. We need to move on from the information repository with a donate button.

15 – Beyond the pie

It would be great to do a pie chart on the increase in pie charts on large charity websites over the last year. But when we look at the new models of organisation it is very obvious that we need to go way beyond the pie.

If I lend my money to Emma I will see not only when she gets the money but when she can give it back to me.

With trust in charities under severe pressure it is important that we move to find ways to enable people to see the impact they can have.

16 – Focus on what you exist to do

One of the great things about digital is it can let you find new ways to meet your current mission that you previously couldn’t have even imagined.  You need to focus on what your mission is and imagine how digital technology can be used to help you deliver that.

17 – Develop your inner geek

To be really good at digital as an organisation you need a culture that supports it, processes that facilitate it and tools to enable it. And most importantly, you need people who ‘get it’.

This isn’t easy in our sector, many of our organisations are old and they weren’t set-up to work in these ways and they have legacy infrastructure that is not easy to unpick. We also often work on issues that are complex. But digital is exciting and a real enabler for social good.  If we see digital as a way to deliver innovative, exciting and effective ways to deliver real change then working to deliver the organisational change we need becomes something we can be passionate about.

Thanks to everyone who came to the talk at Bond and who asked Qs afterwards, it was a really interesting afternoon. If you have thoughts on this talk then I would love to hear them. Leave a comment or email me direct on alison@wearemc2.co.uk.

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