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The charity sector is slowly embracing digital marketing. Even though best practice needs to be developed further within the sector, charities are nevertheless keen to develop top performing digital campaigns. The first thing that they need to focus on is accountability which is key for developing really effective campaigns; it makes the data behind campaigns clearer and more transparent.
It also sharpens expectations, energises delivery, and incubates a “test and learn” approach. This ensures partners are aligned and the focus turns to continuous improvement. As a result, the campaign strategy and associated tactics can pivot and develop as required.
Clear and focused objectives
An accountable campaign strategy begins with clear and focused objectives and it’s important to get this right from the very beginning. Often, charity campaign objectives are to raise awareness and increase supporter acquisition too. However, these are very different objectives, so in order for campaigns to be successful there is a need for clearer focus and “smart” objectives relevant to each campaign and target.
The hardest part is understanding what is attainable. Charities need to work with their digital agencies to look at the information available to them in order to set the right expectations.
Good data feedback
With clear objectives and a strategy based on those in place, it’s important to ensure that there is good data feeding back from the campaign. This is vital for a test and learn approach, which is needed to optimise campaigns and ensure a good return. The key to this is using Google Analytics. Unfortunately, too often Google Analytics data isn’t effectively set up by charities ready for their campaigns to start.
Even the very biggest of charities can benefit from implementing better practices. If “accountability” is one of digital marketers’ greatest allies, then it needs to be armed with accurate and extensive data.
Covid-19 has sped up an inevitable move towards digital and this progression is unlikely to be reversed. I mention below certain areas that are effective for charities reaching new audiences during social distancing and are here to stay.
Search engine marketing
Invariably, search is the first channel to select for any campaign. As “search” provides the information that audiences are looking for, at the exact time they are looking, it sits at the bottom of (new audience) marketing funnels so it is usually the most cost-effective medium. Search engine marketing (SEM) fits into two separate types: the paid ads at the very top of search engines, and the organic links that rank underneath them, which are achieved as a result of search engine optimisation (SEO).
Here again Google is the charity digital marketer’s friend. Often the quickest win available to charities looking for effective marketing channels is the Google Ad Grant. Usually Ad Grant accounts provide $10,000 per month of free Google Ads ($40,000 for grants pro accounts). During Covid-19 times, Google have increased the value offered to support charities during the crisis.
Search engine marketing reaches the audiences who are looking for you and paid search gets you to them immediately, so using the Google Ad Grants lets you do it for free. For some campaigns this can bring in over 1,500 clicks per day of highly relevant traffic.
Running multiple Google accounts
There are some stipulations with the Google Ad Grant, including how much you can bid, and often the algorithm penalises Ad Grant paid ads behind “paying” advertiser ads. For this reason, it can make sense to run a separate paid (non-grant) account for competitive campaigns, such as those which are targeting donations. A paid account can also run different channels such as shopping ads (for charities which run online retail).
Once PPC (pay-per-click, albeit free within the Ad Grant limit) is in place (with free ads and an immediate impact, one would usually start there), the next step is often search engine optimisation. A significant benefit of SEO traffic is that you don’t pay for clicks. Also, many of the principles of SEO are the same as those that should be utilised for improving website engagement. Generating valuable amounts of traffic through organic search usually takes a great deal of work, but it is rewarding.
Developing an SEO strategy
Preparation is key to SEO. From a financial perspective clicks are free, but you will need to invest a significant amount of time and resources into developing a strategy. This involves reviewing the technical performance of your website, developing links (digital PR) and creating engaging content.
Quite often one of a charity’s key digital marketing goals is to drive traffic to their website. This involves reviewing what their audience needs and therefore identifying useful content that will attract valuable traffic. For a website to attract visitors it needs to have the content their audience is looking for.
Improved website visibility is achieved through earning high ranking positions in organic search, generating links to that content (usually because it is so good or useful) and earning shares on social media. Good content can also be leveraged through paid campaigns.
Many successful campaigns start by providing useful content, developing a relationship with those audiences and using an effective call to action. Effective audience targeting with the right content is extremely powerful in raising awareness, providing information or raising funds. When developing content, especially when looking to then support a particular call to action, it is very important to consider user experience and conversion rate optimisation.
Conversion rate optimisation
User experience is all about the quality of the experience users have while visiting your website. Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) reviews how well your website encourages users to take a particular action. Understandably, these two are closely linked. Successful campaigns do not stop when a user arrives at a website. They need to go further and focus on the point at which the user completes the target action, or even where the user then advocates on behalf of the charity. People’s experience on websites is crucial for this.
Good CRO makes a massive impact. Conversion rates are essentially the number of people that can be driven to a website, multiplied by how well that website converts those people. Conversion rates vary wildly across different sites and it is often far more effective to start here before paying for traffic. Some website changes could increase conversions by over 50%. Other changes might only yield 5% improvements, but by making several changes, across multiple elements of the site, the incremental gains amount to something significant.
Understanding the audience
CRO is built on two main elements. Websites need to be persuasive and make actions easy for audiences to complete. It’s crucial to understand the audience and their needs. You should kickstart things with a brainstorming session to develop user personas, and then walk through the website in ‘their shoes’, detailing anything that might make things harder for them or be a deterrent.
As well as quantitative reviews, qualitative data is available and extremely valuable when it comes to understanding audiences’ behaviour. Analytics will detail who audiences are and how they interact with the website, including problem pages where visitors tend to drop off.
There are also a number of programs that will detail what users are looking at on the page. These can identify things such as: what buttons and links work best or which image has the most impact. It can also help identify which questions on the online forms are deterring the users from filling in their information.
In one case a charity tried testing different default donation options on its landing page. As a result of the improvements, the average donation amount increased by £10. It’s also important to remember that the type of content plays a really important role. It needs to appeal to both the left and the right brain. There should be a clear logical argument, but also emotive media like images and video.
Generating better engagement
When it comes to great content, video has always been recognised as a valuable content format for marketing, but now it is exploding. Organically, audiences consume information through it, it generates better engagement and is a very strong and persuasive means of communication.
On a website or social media post, video tends to perform very well. Similarly, video is very effective in paid advertising. In 2019 spend for digital paid ads grew by 8%, while spend for (digital) video ads grew by 27%. There are plenty of platforms that now run video ads, including LinkedIn and Facebook, and currently there are few organisations creating video content for these platforms. Considering how well video performs, it is a very cost-effective way to reach charity audiences.
Digital marketing is a fast-paced industry constantly evolving with new technologies and methods being rolled out on a regular basis which can benefit charities tremendously. Start simple, ensure you have the data you need to understand the value of every component and build campaigns through adopting “continuous improvement”. This one of the key elements of effective campaigns.
The ways that charities operate, reach their audiences, and gain donations have changed dramatically over the last two decades. The Covid-19 pandemic placed increased pressure on the charity sector to get to grips with new technologies. As the rest of the world evolved to adapt to the new restrictions or to overcome the new challenges, it was important to maximise fundraising levels at this crucial time.
With numerous diverse and varied causes to support, the specific difficulties faced by each charity can’t be generalised. However, one overwhelming ripple that has been felt throughout the industry is the ongoing pressure of a widespread digital transformation.
Traditional fundraising or service delivery routes have been disrupted due to stay-at-home orders, causing organisations to ramp up their online presence. However, even before Covid-19, a cultural shift that leaned towards less cash use was sowing the seeds for the current state of play. Now, supermarket coin pots or office cake sales are topped up by virtual crowdfunding platforms and online campaigns. Donations are gathered at the click of a button and having a good website has soared to the top of priority lists for many charities.
Of course, there are pros and cons to this. Moving your efforts online can lead to a far bigger or more targeted audience and when done right, digital fundraising campaigns can be very effective, reaching just the right people at just the right time.
However, this presents the first problem - does your charity or organisation have the right skillset or resources to make the most of digital platforms? The 2021 Charity Digital Skills Report from Skills Platform found that 49% of UK charities were lacking a digital strategy, highlighting just how much work needs to be done in the sector. Success lies in technical competencies that - for many charities and volunteer-led platforms - can be difficult to sustain or source.
The wider marketing mix
A large part of the fundraising process lies in marketing - ensuring enough relevant people learn about the cause or campaign you’re running. This too is now increasingly moving online, appealing to an audience base that “lives” in the virtual world. There are lots of areas to consider, such as social media, creating a content strategy (producing blogs, videos or even audio content, optimised for accessibility), and using the right advertising platform for you.
Not every charity will have the budget needed to secure a prime time television slot or a double page magazine spread. However, thanks to the rise of digital there are other online solutions, such as social media or digital advertisement packages that require smaller chunks of investment yet offer great returns.
Understanding which route is best for you will depend on your campaign, your audience and your objectives. Certainly, investing time and resources into creating a considered strategy will pay off far more than a blind, blanket approach. Word of mouth can be transformative for charities, but if you fail to take technological tools into account and use a blend of online and offline marketing, you could be missing out on a huge opportunity to spread your message further and reach your fundraising targets.
Whether you’re looking for ways to bolster your existing digital marketing strategy or are just in the early stages of your digitisation plans, the Google Ads platform is a great place to start, particularly for charities.
Google Ad Grants explained
Since 2003, search engine giant Google has been helping non-profit organisations take advantage of its advertising tool, via its Google Ad Grants initiative.
The programme is designed to help people connect with causes to make a greater impact on the world. Google provides eligible charities with a grant of £95,000 a year, which is provided to you as credit on its Google Ads platform. These adverts can transform any charity, using clever targeting and data-led intelligence to boost their profile.
Once set up, the adverts appear on relevant Google search result pages. For example, if you’re a local hospice charity, anyone searching for “fun runs in [your area]” or “charities to support in [your area]” will see a short description of your charity at the top of their results, with a link to your website.
Thanks to the grant, this free marketing technique ensures your charity will appear on Google at the exact moment it matters - when a service user, their family or even potential donors are searching for topics related to your cause. It’s a great opportunity to educate people about your mission, recruit volunteers and attract donors to support your charity. This can increase visibility with your key audiences, and often drives conversions.
There is a pre-qualification process to pass when applying for the funding, which I’ll expand on later, and successful charities must meet Google’s eligibility criteria. However, any charity of any size can apply for the grant. Currently, Google works with more than 20,000 not-for-profit organisations across 50 countries and I’d encourage every charity to consider what they could do with this opportunity.
Customising your campaigns
Those who successfully apply for the grant will receive their £95,000 yearly funds as a monthly budget of £7,500. Recipients must then build and manage their own Google Ads campaigns.
These adverts work on a “pay per click” basis, which means that you “bid” on visits to your website each time one of your adverts is clicked. Using the Google Ads platform, you are able to create campaigns based around specific keywords relevant to your charity. Whenever those keywords are searched, the user can then see your website amongst the list of Google search results and, hopefully, choose to click through to you.
Each click will cost a small fee (drawn from your monthly budget), which is unique depending on both the popularity of the keyword and how many other organisations are bidding on the same keyword. Upon exhausting your budget, your ads will no longer be visible to potential users.
This monthly budget can be split up and used on multiple campaigns, or sets of keywords. Sometimes you may want to allocate it equally to each campaign, or give a larger budget to campaigns that are more important for your goals at the time. Taking a tailored approach and reviewing it each month will harness the best results.
Beyond boosting visibility, using Google Ads can gain lots of insight and data about your customer behaviour. Once your ads are live, you can use Google Analytics - a free online service that monitors website traffic - and conversion tracking to understand how your ads are performing, which keywords are the strongest and which ads are driving donations or recruiting volunteers.
This knowledge is extremely valuable, helping to measure return on investment (ROI) and gather information to help you shape your future campaigns.
Some charities have seen website traffic increase by over 500% since using Google Ads, and monthly donation income rise by over 800%. But this isn’t achieved without actively improving campaigns and carefully modifying keywords to get the best “bang for your buck”.
Checking before you apply
Google Ad Grants really is a fantastic initiative for the charity sector. So much so, you might wonder, “why would anyone not be using the tool?”
Though extremely beneficial, there are a number of obstacles to navigate when applying for the grant, which is subject to eligibility and compliance checks. These continue even once you’re given the funds. Indeed, the majority of grants awarded by Google can then be suspended if the organisation fails to follow their guidelines.
Before you apply, it’s important to check whether you’re eligible. Criteria include:
- Are you registered as a charity with the Charity Commission in England and Wales?
- Is your charity’s income over £5,000?
- Do you satisfy the definition of a “charity” in accordance with the Charities Act?
- If you’re based in Scotland, do you meet the “Charity Test” as set out by OSCR, the Scottish Charity Regulator?
- Organisations must acknowledge and agree to Google’s required certifications regarding non-discrimination and donation receipt and use.
Lots of information
The final criteria charities need to meet to gain initial Ad Grant approval is to have a high quality website that meets the Ad Grants website policy. If so, you can begin the process of applying. It requires lots of information, and you’ll need to gather supporting evidence that proves claims, such as your financial status. Approval can take many weeks, so ensure you have the time available before starting the application, and that your website is robust.
If you’re a charity looking to scale up, or just need to find a way to improve your online marketing, there are lots of reasons why Google Ads could be the right platform for you. Follow these steps and you soon could be excelling in the digital space, but it’s worth making sure you can invest the necessary resources before beginning the application.
We all know that charities come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes. This variety is one of the strengths of the sector, allowing issues both global and hyper-local to be tackled in a whole host of innovative ways. While the scale and mission of charities varies markedly, one thing that should be universal is the investment and professionalism of their marketing department. Now, if we’re being brutally honest, a fair number of charities do not play their “A game” when it comes to communications.
Basic mass email/mail-outs, a paltry social media presence, poor quality imagery and calls to action are unfortunately quite common. I could write a whole article theorising why this is the case. However, it is safe to say that for many charities the misconception that good marketing is inherently expensive will be a big factor.
There may also be the view that having a very polished and expensive looking marketing machine could hurt their brand image. Perhaps sending the signal to potential donors that their money is being wasted. A minority may also believe that a “brand image” is for the private sector - that marketing is not something which is truly necessary because a good cause is a good cause.
Of course, we all know that these views are completely wrong. Good marketing is not something to be shy about and it is not something that is by default expensive. Indeed, there is often no link between how much money an organisation spends and the quality of its marketing. As the old adage goes: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.”
The reality is that through clever use of technology and the adoption of best practices, even the smallest charity can make huge improvements to its communication function. Through these changes donations can dramatically improve, supporters can be galvanised and the brand image – or profile of a particular cause – can be enhanced.
There is not enough room here to talk about every communication channel or every available piece of marketing technology. So, I will focus largely on one of the most important and effective channels – email.
Roughly speaking, emails to supporters take two distinct forms. Calls to action – usually to solicit donations for a cause, and informative – updating people on a specific event, initiative or organisation news. They should, however, be considered as different parts of a holistic campaign to engage people.
Let’s start with best practice. There is really no excuse for a charity’s emails not to be personalised. That is marketing 101. If you are not addressing an individual by name, using the right personal details and taking note of their location, you are falling at the first hurdle. Fixing this problem is not particularly technically challenging but does involve one of the most important building blocks – data management.
At this point you might start feeling drowsy; data management is not a subject that gets hearts racing. Nevertheless, it is fundamental to good marketing. It does not necessarily mean a huge and expensive data warehouse with a raft of enterprise software sitting on top of it. For most charities, a simple Excel spreadsheet will suffice. The key is that the information is complete, regularly updated, secure, cleaned and managed properly.
In the new world of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) this is incredibly important – you need to be able to hold personal data in a secure way and ensure that if someone opts out of a marketing campaign you honour their request.
For medium and larger sized charities there is a plethora of CRM (customer relationship management) and marketing software out there which will aid management and automate a lot of processes. Although this may involve an initial investment of time and resources, ultimately the ongoing costs will be far outweighed by efficiency savings.
Correct data management will ensure that you can personalise your messages. This doesn’t stop at simply knowing the name of the supporter. It extends to tailoring the content of each message, the time it is sent, how often messages are sent and even the imagery that is used.
The timing and frequency of emails can often make or break a campaign. Investing in technology to analyse the performance of previous campaigns will uncover the factors that made them a success. You will be able to group your supporters into segments that are not simply based on their age, gender and location but on their actual behaviour.
For example, a certain group of people may prefer messages in the morning. Others may show a sharp drop off in engagement if a certain number of messages are sent within a specific time frame. Some may prefer to make one large donation at a particular time in the month or year and therefore should receive a message around that time.
Perhaps you can create an automatic email trigger that messages them if they miss their unofficial donation deadline. Maybe certain individuals prefer text messages or social media communication. By identifying even a handful of these factors you can make sweeping changes to how you communicate with different groups of people.
The most efficient way to build and execute more complex, segmented campaigns is to invest in a CRM system. This does not need to be an all singing and dancing platform. There are plenty of systems which are straightforward to use and work on an affordable monthly subscription.
You may be wondering how do we identify engagement? The simplest way is to look at the open rate. However, the most meaningful metric is “clicks”. This could be hitting a link to a donation page, additional information or subscribing to a particular event. To identify this type of engagement you need to ensure that your emails are built with the right tags and tracking information. This will enable each individual supporter’s journey to be identified and will open the door to data analysis.
Many of you will have read about the rise of data scientists. In a nutshell these are highly qualified analysts who can use algorithms to identify trends and predict the behaviour of groups of individuals. Realistically, employing a fully qualified data scientist will be beyond the budget of most organisations.
Nevertheless, training your marketing staff in the basics of data analysis and statistics will enable you to move away from the spray and pray approach to email marketing that is so detrimental to the reputation and performance of a lot of organisations.
If you’ve nailed the fundamentals of data management and identified the general behaviour of your supporters, the next step is considering the content you are putting out. Best practice dictates that an email needs an engaging subject line, a clear call to action, professional imagery and concise and compelling copy. Achieving these aims should be well within the ability of every charity.
If you think your content could be better, consider whether it is a fundamental gap in the skillset of your marketing team or is it a case that the right processes are not in place? In practice, are you reviewing your messages regularly to ensure that the copy and imagery are as good as they can be – or are you settling for what you have always done, and what has “worked in the past”?
Is it a case that each email isn’t being checked by more than one person so that typos, poor grammar and unprofessional formatting don’t slip through? Do all the links work and is there a clear call to action and, therefore, purpose to the message? If you feel your content is great but you know engagement could be improved further, consider writing multiple versions of each message, tailored to each segment.
Doing all of this is clearly more work; however, time and time again studies have shown that this level of personalisation has a marked increase on performance. Thus it happened in spectacular fashion with the Salvation Army’s Christmas Campaign. In this instance, there was optimisation of their donations form. By testing and refining the form – including improving the layout, making it mobile friendly and thinking hard about the customer journey – donations leaped by 20% compared to the previous year.
Obviously, we’ve focused predominantly on email in this article, nevertheless, the Salvation Army campaign shows that donations and engagement can increase dramatically by improving any element of the “customer journey”. This is why you shouldn’t think of your email campaign in isolation.
Put yourself in the shoes of your supporters. How do they experience your charity from the initial interaction – meeting an activist, seeing some advertising etc. – then visiting your website or signing up for your newsletter?
What happens when they make their first donation? Do they get an email or call acknowledging it? If they are asked for more donations, how does the donation page look? Does it have all the information they need to make their decision, is it easy to make a payment, does it work on mobile?
I could make an almost endless list of questions, but the reality is that no charity is perfect. There are always small improvements you can make which will have an outsized impact on engagement and donations. If you’re lost by the sheer volume of factors, the best approach is to map out how the typical supporter interacts with your charity. What are all the touchpoints, what do they see on each channel and what is the ultimate destination.
Doing this will enable you to quickly see gaps in your marketing outputs, pain points and areas of optimisation. In an ideal world, you can build and test different customer journeys to identify the best route.
Thankfully, there is a raft of technology available which can help you. It is also increasingly simple to use and cost-effective. Researching this technology and choosing the platform or application which best meets your needs will of course again take time and effort – but it is well worth the investment. Being tech literate in general is also important for anyone working within a charity.
Keeping up to date with the latest trends within marketing, payments and data management will enable you to make the right decisions about how your charity’s marketing initiatives evolve.
If everything I’ve talked about seems overwhelming, start small – make incremental improvements to different parts of your marketing output and see what impact this makes. I am certain you’ll be shocked by its impact.
Charities face a tough challenge when it comes to developing and implementing creative campaigns that resonate with potential supporters as well as existing donors. Simply put, as a charity, you are not marketing a product or a service but ideas and concepts to stimulate action – a much more complex proposition.
Charities which succeed are those which manage to speak to their target audiences in a way that resonates with them, raises their profile, increases brand awareness and ultimately encourages action – whether this is driving direct donations, increasing attendees at fundraising events, encouraging raffle ticket sales, etc.
As campaigners, charities are passionate about the need to convey their message and make things happen. But while enthusiasm for your cause and a “gut feel” for what makes your potential supporters tick, your marketing campaign is destined to fail if you lack a clearly defined objective, a comprehensive strategy and ways of evaluating progress, and checking you are on track. Without these vital elements, you could end up wasting a lot of time and money.
Starting with a clear strategy
An effective marketing strategy will help your charity reach more people and generate more income. A useful place to start is determining what your charity is trying to achieve. For example, what are your goals for the coming year? Do you want to raise general awareness? Is your main objective to increase donations from existing supporters? Are you looking to re-engage with lapsed donors?
Segmenting your target audience can help you achieve this. For example, you may want to segment your audience into: first-time donors, potential donors, corporate sponsors, historic high level supporters and key influencers (e.g. celebrities, local “VIPs”, etc.).
These donor segments should receive different messaging as you’re encouraging them to do different things. This helps you to focus your strategy by considering key messages for each specific target audience. The ultimate aim is to effectively summarise what makes your charity different from any other charity and the reasons why people should support you.
When it comes to messaging, clarity is important. Sweeping, top line statements - such as “we want to be the leading charity” - are not specific enough and are impossible to measure.
Achieving a clear, concise strategy gives you a solid foundation and a line in the sand to work from, providing a stronger focus and more effective messaging across all your marketing communications.
When it comes to the nuts and bolts of the campaign – the tactics – it’s important to use the right tactic, at the right time, with the right audience.
With many charities using social media to compete for their audience’s attention, it can be difficult to achieve “cut-through” and stand out from the crowd. That’s why it’s important to consider alternative tactics - such as print - to create a real point of difference. While our finger tends to hover over the delete button as we look through hundreds of emails in our inbox, we tend to give traditional mail a bit more of our focus – especially if it is creative, innovative or unique.
Evaluation should also be a key part of your marketing strategy. A marketing plan that just sits on the shelf is not particularly useful. You should regularly review your results to check that your goals have been met or to determine if new strategies are in order. Unfortunately, evaluation is something that is often forgotten but it is vital to measure if you have achieved your overall income targets or how your campaign is performing.
But a word to the wise: once a particularly innovative campaign theme or action has succeeded, its impact may not be as effective next time round. You need to constantly create new ways to dramatise an issue as you build pressure for change.
Data quality is everything
In award-winning charity campaigns, it’s the sexy stuff like viral online videos and hard-hitting TV ads that get all the attention but ensuring the quality of your data is one of the most essential tools of the trade in marketing. It is one of the most important, best practice backroom activities that will generate the biggest impact on your return on investment (ROI).
Despite the growth in digital, direct mail (DM) is still a vital tactic in charity marketers’ armoury. But there is little point spending a significant proportion of your budget on DM if donors’ addresses are incomplete, inaccurate, duplicated or out of date. For a business, this kind of wastage is not ideal to say the least; but for a charity, with limited funds and donations as its only means of income, it is completely unacceptable. Not only that, but sending out mail packs to deceased individuals or duplicating communications can be extremely damaging from a PR perspective.
The quality of your data also helps you to personalise your direct communications ensuring your mail shots can be tailored to individuals. The more you can personalise your DM, the more effective it will be.
Of course, it goes without saying that you do need to be fully aware of the new GDPR regulations, effective in the UK in May. Recipients of promotional materials through the post have the right to opt-out if they wish to be removed from marketing lists. It is therefore the obligation of all organisations to ensure recipients’ preferences are managed effectively (as per the existing data protection legislation).
Expertise at the outset
We’ve all heard the old adage “planning and preparation prevents poor performance” and no article about best practice in charity marketing would be complete about a mention of the importance of getting expert insight right at the outset of any campaign.
If you are planning on embarking on including any aspect of print marketing in your campaign, it can pay huge dividends to get your specialist print provider on board right at the outset at the planning stage. Rather than thinking about print as the last link in the chain immediately before implementation, you should instead think of your printer as an expert consultant who can provide invaluable early input before you part with any of your marketing budget.
An experienced print provider can advise on the print processes best suited to your charity’s individual requirements, including paper quality, finish and the quantity of printed materials required.
If you have a particular creative concept in mind, any printer worth their salt should be able to tell you if the campaign can be completed within budget or whether there is a more cost effective way to achieve the desired result. Furthermore, if you are working to a particular timeframe, it is vital to get your print partner on board at an early stage to ensure they finish your project on time.
Of course, there are no guarantees of success but by developing an effective marketing campaign strategy, paying close attention to the quality of your data and getting the right experts in at the outset before you commit to marketing spend this all can pay huge dividends and ensure you get optimum ROI.
Getting creative, putting some real thought and effort into producing a campaign that makes use of all the tools and tactics available to you can put your charity in the spotlight and motivate your target audiences into taking action.
Marketing best practice example
Founded in 1583, the University of Edinburgh is one of the world’s top universities. At over 400 years old, it attracts students from across the globe. However, like all charitable bodies, it relies on donations and in particular, alumni donations for capital, research and bursary funding.
The university devised an appeal focusing on people as its inspiration, providing a “human face” for the institution. The campaign was well thought out and carefully planned using a variety of marketing tactics to appeal to its wide range of domestic and international alumni from digital solutions such as: social media, email and online via a specific micro site, to more traditional solutions including DM, events and video.
The success of the campaign lay in the way it used segmentation to appeal to different donor target audiences. With 12 unique segments, the campaign consisted of tailored pictures and quotes relating to recipients’ experiences. This level of personalisation meant that for the audience the campaign felt like an old friend speaking to them about how financial support made a huge difference in their education and their lives.
Once the video was produced, all existing donors were invited to a premiere in Edinburgh. Several days later the fundraising appeal arrived through their door, depicting a graduate from the time they studied at the university. It was preceded and followed by an email linking the recipient to a short video of their fellow graduate. There was a further London premiere and a final email with a video of the “future” student they could be supporting.
The multi-channel campaign - using the power of social media, email, web, DM, events and video all working together to create a cohesive and strong message to alumni - was a huge success. In fact, the campaign exceeded all monetary targets achieving a 39% increase in income. It signed up 654 new donors – making it the second largest successful donor mailing in the university’s history – and it achieved a remarkable 363% ROI.
In addition, there were several unexpected wins. The strength of the message and content meant that those who took the time to watch donated much more than ever before. Furthermore, the campaign significantly appealed to the “silver surfer generation” – a target group the university had not managed to appeal successfully to before - and as a result, there was a marked increase in legacy pledges around this period. The documentary-style campaign was much talked about remains to this day, a timeless resource for fundraising at the university.
There has never been a more important time for charities to develop authentic, honest, engaging and timely campaigns that resonate with existing and potential supporters.
The charity sector has, in recent years, borne the brunt of extremely negative and damaging press. The tragic case of Olive Cooke caused public outrage, forcing legislative change aimed at stopping aggressive sales tactics.
Consumer trust undermined
There’s little doubt the affair undermined consumer trust in the charity sector, highlighting the skewed moral compass of some and the lengths they’ll go to generate funds. The sector also came under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons following significant fines from the ICO for several high profile charities.
New data protection legislation brings a welcome step change preventing fundraisers from sharing personal data. Charities will no longer be able to assume a one-off donation means someone wants to opt-in. Instead, charities will need a better grasp of what makes target audiences tick and importantly, a better understanding of their preferences. More accountability, better transparency and improved engagement are all the name of the game.
But what now for charities looking to raise awareness and boost funds for their particular good cause in an overcrowded marketplace to an arguably more sceptical audience within a tightened regulatory environment?
It’s clear that charities need to rethink their approach and adopt more creative ways to get their message across. The legislative changes have to be seen as a force for good, driving charitable organisations to redefine their values and make positive changes.
The case for direct mail
Perhaps now is the time for charities to take the opportunity to wind back the clock and go back to more traditional promotional methods, such as sending direct marketing by post?
You do need however to be mindful of the new GDPR regulations. Recipients of marketing through the post have the right to opt-out if they wish to be removed from marketing lists. All organisations therefore have a duty of care to ensure recipients’ preferences are managed (as per the existing data protection legislation).
Of course, the days of sending out direct mail to all and sundry are gone but there is a definite opportunity to renew and refocus promotional efforts through meaningful, carefully crafted, targeted offline communications.
This will not only improve donor engagement but will reduce the average cost per response and ultimately, offer a more sustainable approach as wastage is reduced. As any marketer worth their salt will tell you, at the end of the day, the quality of your leads is far more important than the quantity.
It goes without saying that having at your disposal good quality accurate data is absolutely key. Having the correct data establishes your charity’s credibility at the outset with recipients. Moreover, the integrity of your data will directly impact on your return on investment (ROI).
Personalising direct communications
Data also helps you to personalise your direct communications enabling you to tailor what you say to the person you are talking to. The more you can personalise DM, the more effective it will be. A direct mail shot with a letter in the pack addressed to the recipient’s name works far more effectively than an impersonal greeting such as “To the homeowner”.
The strengths of direct mail in terms of its cost effectiveness, targeting, personalisation and its measurability are increasingly being recognised by the charity sector. According to the market research firm Nielsen, DM spending in the charity sector is on the rise. In the year to June 2016, charities increased spending on DM by 3% to £265m. This represented more than half of charities' combined £459m advertising budget that year.
The onus will be on charities and their marketing and/or print providers to develop creative DM campaigns that build connections with donors or potential supporters, rather than constantly asking for money outright.
An Institute of Fundraising survey found that direct mail is welcomed by many and it ranks highly as a preferred communication channel among people. The survey debunks the myth that DM only appeals to an older demographic. The findings show high engagement and response levels to DM among 18-34 year olds. Perhaps in this day and age when much of our lives are conducted online, a tangible piece of addressed mail has a far greater impact?
Striving for creativity
Creativity is an important element in an effective DM campaign that generates responses. But it should not be creativity for creativity’s sake. Instead, it needs to be authentic, honest and compelling. And it should be based on facts – DM creative that is “spun from thin air” is never going to convince a prospect to part with their hard earned cash.
You have to produce something that people want to open, read and action – whether that’s to visit your website, make a one-off donation or sign up to a regular direct debit, attend your fundraising event, or sell raffle tickets, whatever the call to action is.
Charities, by their very nature, are passionate about their cause and the need to make change happen. Enthusiasm and intuition can go a long way, but creative campaigns can fail because they lack a clearly defined aim, a campaign strategy and ways of checking they are on track.
It’s vital to use the right tactic, at the right time, with the right audience. And no matter how much you plan, you need to be flexible enough to take advantage of opportunities. Once a particularly innovative campaign theme or action has succeeded, its impact will not be as great next time round – so you need to be mindful of that and continue to create new ways to communicate key messages.
Powerful creative tool
Storytelling is a powerful creative tool at charities’ disposal. Stories can help charities move away from rather “dry” facts and figures, statements of policy, mission and values to instead painting vivid pictures in words that resonate with the target audience and have a real impact.
In order for this to work, you need to think about the audience and ask why they would be interested in what you have to say and consider what you want them to do as a result of reading your story.
People are far more interested and motivated when you hit their emotional buttons. For example, if you are raising money for people with disabilities, talk about Sarah and her specific problems and how your charity has helped her over the years and made a real difference to her life - rather than generalising about your values and work.
Putting DM to the test
Direct mail testing is a critical but often overlooked part of a DM campaign. However, it’s never a good idea to rest on your laurels and the same goes for direct marketing campaigns. It’s important to ask the marketing or print agency you are working with to constantly test the DM. If issues arise, lessons need to be learnt and acted upon before rolling it out again and testing it further. This will incrementally increase the effectiveness of your DM campaign.
Testing should not be a one-off procedure but rather an ongoing process that helps you understand every aspect of your DM campaign and help you to continually improve your results.
You can test all aspects of the campaign - whether it’s testing different lists or the timings and frequency of mailings or testing different creative propositions, key messages, headlines, formats, illustrations or calls to action. You may even want to test whether or not you put a stamp on the envelope which may help with response rates.
Testing can confirm what you already suspected or knew, or it can surprise you with results that may have gone against your intuition and best judgment. If you are just embarking on DM campaigns, you’ll need to do more tests to assess what works and doesn’t work. Once your campaign matures and you have achieved some success, you will be able to reduce the level of testing or test smaller batches of supporters when experimenting with different ideas.
Complex postal market
Another important part of any DM campaign is navigating your way around the complex postal market to find the best price for your delivery requirements. Postage can be expensive and there are a number of different service levels, products and tariffs available. It’s worth asking your print or marketing agency about their postal optimisation services so you benefit from the latest expert advice on reducing postage costs without compromising quality and improving delivery times.
Once your DM campaign is over, it is advisable not just to “pack up shop” but to keep your supporters informed about how much money was raised or the difference their contribution has made.
If the campaign goals were not met, review your practices. Were expectations set too high or were there weak spots in any aspect of the DM? Investing time in engaging your supporters and building a connection with them will grow their loyalty and means that you can hit the ground running in your next campaign.
A creative direct mail campaign can, undoubtedly, be a profitable way to gain supporters and raise money. However, you have to do it right and that means having a proper strategy with realistic and measureable goals as well as a focused approach.
Campaign’s core values
Above all, it’s vital to work collaboratively with your external agencies or partners to deliver great print communications to your target audience. The best DM campaigns come from everyone involved having an in-depth understanding of the core values of your campaign, your key messages, the concepts behind your design and your desired outcomes.
This includes working with an expert printer who understands all aspects of the campaign and can act as a trusted adviser on what works best with your target audience – including the preferred paper quality, finish and overall print solution – which are all important factors in achieving the very best response rates.
"The strengths of direct mail in terms of its cost effectiveness, targeting, personalisation and its measurability are increasingly being recognised by the charity sector."
"Enthusiasm and intuition can go a long way, but creative campaigns can fail because they lack a clearly defined aim, a campaign strategy and ways of checking they are on track."
"Testing can confirm what you already suspected or knew, or it can surprise you with results that may have gone against your intuition and best judgment."
Charity sector marketing professionals are strapped for time, and under pressure to meet targets while keeping marketing budgets to a minimum. The choice of marketing channels is therefore critical. Social media continues to be an important tool in raising awareness. However, email not only provides the best return on investment (ROI) of any marketing channel, but also email techniques oﬀer significant opportunities to keep potential supporters engaged and loyal to your cause by building trust.
The key is to find innovative ways to be "invited" into the hearts and minds of potential supporters. "Batch and blast" email campaigns were never a good idea, but with new tighter rules like those from the Fundraising Preference Service, coupled with tighter email marketing regulations around the globe, they are less likely than ever to convince people to give their hard-earned money, valuable time or personal data.
Create meaningful content
Oﬀering the right email content, delivered in a creative way, will make your supporters stop and take notice. The trick is to take the time to understand what your donors and volunteers really care about.
People are more likely to give to causes when they understand the impact their donation is making. According to a report from charity think tank NPC, British consumers would donate an additional £655 million each year to charity if they had access to more information about evidence of impact and knew exactly how their money would be spent. Around 20% of mainstream donors and 34% of high income donors would increase their overall giving if charities were better at communicating their successes.
Use content automation
One way to make your content a success is to re-purpose your existing web content. If you already produce great articles and blog posts or other types of content on your website, you can use content automation to pull that into email campaigns. This is done using XML feeds, but you don’t have to be techy! Your Email Service Provider [ESP] should be able to help you set it up.
Another proven content idea is creating modular templates. In order to have enough time to focus on content, make sure email design is not one of your worries. A modular template approach in a robust Email Editor means you can pick and choose design layouts and simply insert the creative as and when you need it.
Individual contextual messages
First-Person Marketing allows you to communicate personal and individual contextual email messages on a large scale. Essentially, it’s the polar opposite of batch and blast, where you have one generic message pushed out to an untargeted list.
This is not just about using a mail merge tag with someone’s name. First-Person Marketing allows you to use advanced data integrations to incorporate individual preferences, behaviour, interests, and lifecycle/journey touchpoints into your content. The net result is relevant content that will resonate with your supporters on an individual basis.
Here are some tips to get started with First-Person Marketing:
- Stop thinking about your list as just "data". Think about it as a collection of individuals with needs, opinions and interests.
- Reign back on "one size fits all" email blasts. There will inevitably be times when you need to communicate a single message to everyone, but it should not be your only consideration.
- Use testing techniques before you press send. Always ask "why?" and "what if…?" and then work out what you need to do to make it happen.
- Commit to ongoing change. Sometimes a charity’s structure and politics can make significant changes seem impossible. The important thing is to keep looking for small incremental changes on an ongoing basis.
- Increase efficiency and relevance with automation. By taking time to examine donor journeys and decide where you can introduce automation, you not only save time but improve donors, experience by sending relevant content.
There are a number of effective techniques you can employ straight away, with minimum effort, for maximum return - with perhaps some help from your ESP.
Engaging a new supporter
Charities often start a relationship with a supporter based off a single key event or campaign. Bring them further into the fold with an on-boarding campaign. These are usually a sequence of automated emails that can take your supporters through a process to become more entrenched in your brand and what you stand for.
This could be stories about how their donations make an impact on the recipients of your charity, or helpful information to keep your supporters engaged with an event such as a marathon or sponsored walk.
You might provide progress updates on your project to encourage supporters to share details with friends or oﬀer additional donations, or certificates and social media badges when supporters have completed an action such as hosting their own fundraiser or completed a run to encourage word-of-mouth. Don’t forget to use dynamic content to personalise the email with their name, amount raised and completed time for a race (if appropriate).
Your supporters will never be more engaged with your email programme than on the day they sign up. Maintain that enthusiasm with an automated welcome campaign. These emails can be used when someone initially engages with your brand, makes a donation or signs up to volunteer. The goal is to let them know quickly, normally within 24 hours, that their help and support is meaningful and appreciated.
For example, thank people for their donation and let them know how it will be used. Then send follow up emails when a supporter opts in to receive your content via your website or social media pages. In addition, communicate a process such as "what happens next" to let people know what to expect over the coming weeks or months.
Nurturing potential supporters
Nurture campaigns are designed to contribute to the process of developing long term relationships at every stage of a "sales" process. Testing the type of messaging and timing of these emails is crucial as every audience is diﬀerent.
Consider oﬀering something to your supporter before you ask them to give their time or money. For example, the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) oﬀers guides on how to build "homes for nature" including a "bug hotel" and a "hedgehog house".
Set up a carefully timed sequence for optimum results. You don’t want their interest to become weak, but you don’t want to email them every day either. Start with a weekly or bi-weekly sequence of three or four emails, and test the timing to determine the best level of engagement.
Set clear objectives for every email in the sequence. Do you want these contacts to understand more about the scale of your cause, or do you want to tell them a story of the impact of a donation?
Use an abandoned basket functionality to nudge potential donors towards completing their donation.
List segmentation allows you to oﬀer relevant content to your supporters based on demographics, behaviour, purchasing history or interests. Even at a basic level it can improve the success of campaigns.
Start with broad segments such as donors, volunteers or advocates. They all believe in your cause, but have diﬀerent motivations to get involved so it’s important to address those to keep email engagement optimised.
Drill down further into identifying the diﬀerent target audiences within each segment. You will have more than one type of donor or volunteer. Think beyond the obvious. It’s easy to come up with broad brush terms such as "over 50s", but if you try and think about common interests, beliefs or behaviours, your campaigns will be more eﬀective.
Even if you haven’t collected much data, you can start small by gaining insights from past behaviour.
Low cost engagement
Charities need to find cost eﬀective and efficient ways to stay in touch with supporters, donors and volunteers on a consistent basis. Email marketing, when done well, ticks all those boxes.
GOOD RETURN ON INVESTMENT. Email marketing is still one of the best value marketing techniques out there, both in terms of time and cost. Email still outperforms any other marketing activity for moving your supporters towards your desired outcome. A recent email industry report shows that 84% of charities have experienced excellent ROI from email marketing techniques. That’s an increase of 18% since an earlier report in 2014!
INSIGHT ON BEHAVIOUR AND INTERESTS. Email marketing oﬀers you fast results without having to undertake expensive market research. You will find out almost immediately what works and what doesn’t, so you can take steps to fix or edit your content to get better results.
PERSONALISATION. Personalisation has been mentioned numerous times during this piece, and with good reason. The more relevant your campaigns, the better the results.
INSPIRE FURTHER ACTION FROM EXISTING SUPPORTERS. The people on your email list have already expressed an interest in your charity and the work that you do. Your TV and social media campaigns are great for bringing new people into the fold. But your email marketing can even enhance these, to encourage and inspire action in a more eﬀective way.
Make it resonate
Remember, if your message as a charity doesn't resonate, you can be switched oﬀ with just one click. With relevant communications planned for the lifecycle of your supporters you will build long term engagement and trust – surely the key objectives of any charity.
For decades, charities have invested in direct marketing to reach new and existing supporters. From cold calling, knocking on doors, street fundraisers to mail drops, it has been an effective method of fundraising. However, times are changing and consumers are becoming increasingly frustrated by this type of communication.
According to research carried out by the American Press Institute, 88% of millennials now get their news from Facebook. Meanwhile Brexit negotiators, such as the EU leader Michel Barnier, often express their views on Twitter first before they make the news headlines.
Implications for charities
Social media has become the ideal place for charities to share information about their organisation without donors or supporters feeling specifically targeted or solicited. And thanks to new, more affordable and accessible technology, charities have the opportunity to invest even more in their social media communications to help them save time, resource and money. But it is apparent that many charity trustees feel concerned as to whether social media can truly benefit their charity. This mindset can prevent them from giving it proper consideration or investment.
According to research in the Charity Digital Skills Report, more than 70% of charities rate their board’s digital skills as low or with room for improvement, and 80% of respondents want their leadership team to provide a clear vision of what digital could help them achieve. Trepidation shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid social media, as it is a huge part of people's everyday lives, and can help charities get their messages in front of the right people and even deliver services more efficiently and effectively. Social media needs to be embraced from the top down and trustees should not only get involved but also empower staff to make the right decisions.
As leaders, it is imperative to understand the opportunities that embracing social media can offer to a charity, regardless of size of cause area. With over two billion monthly users on Facebook alone, the reach that these platforms have cannot be ignored. The question has now moved from "can you afford to invest in social media?" to "can you afford not to?"
Quality not quantity
As a trustee, are you aware of what technology your charity is using and how much it is costing the organisation? I will bet that most trustees do not know the true cost. Legacy platforms and outdated CRM (customer relationship management) systems can cost huge amounts of money due to the number of licences needed, hosting costs as well as possible unexpected costs such as additional training for volunteers to use them. And if they are outdated, they are also ineffective. There are much cheaper and more cost-effective ways to build stronger relationships; social media is one of these solutions.
Social media offers an unparalleled way to communicate directly with supporters, journalists, MPs and many other stakeholders compared to other methods of communication. Being able to directly tweet a journalist about a campaign or in response to an article they have written saves time and is more effective than sending them an email. Over 80% of journalists say that they find their news stories on Twitter so building a relationship with them on this channel will increase opportunities for media coverage or being approached for an expert quote.
A tired public
Whilst methods such as cold calling, direct mail, street and door to door fundraising have been effective to a degree, we must consider the public’s increasing disregard for these methods of communication. After a summer of discontent in 2015, the Fundraising Regulator was set up to keep the sector in check and to offer the public greater control over how charities communicate with it.
As part of this, in July 2017, the Fundraising Preference Service (FPS) was launched - an online website which offers anyone the ability to stop emails, calls, texts and addressed mail from any charity in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This means that charities will need to continuously download reports for the FPS and update records accordingly.
These are not the only changes that are happening. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is coming into effect in May 2018. It’s complicated (I urge you to read up on it and ensure your charity is on the road to GDPR compliance) but in a nutshell, it also offers people the ability to choose how they want organisations to communicate with them.
Speaking to your supporters just got harder. But this is where social media can bridge that divide. Through social media hashtags and "social listening", which act like a search function, it’s easier to get your message in front of the right people. If your content is engaging and inspiring - not merely "broadcast" to the masses – it is possible to strengthen relationships with new and existing supporters alike.
After all, no one wants to be caught in a "broadcast" channel that merely promotes an agenda. These merely talk at people, rather than engage with them. Social media is about getting closer to supporters, through having meaningful conversations, which have value in engaging existing supporters and donors (thereby increasing their goodwill and propensity to give more in the future), as well as finding new ones.
Boosting your ROI
According to fundraising consultant Ken Burnett, it takes a charity an average of two years to recoup the money spent on acquiring a donor who gives £5 per month and costs them £160 if acquiring them through face-to-face methods. Is this money (and time) well spent? Well, if that donor continues to donate for the rest of their lifetime, then yes. But as we all know, this is unlikely, as many disruptive factors will come into play. Social media can help raise funds and boost return on investment considerably more than other methods.
Social media plays a big part in getting people to donate to causes, whether it’s by donating to a friend’s fundraising page that they shared in a Facebook post or whether it’s a tweet asking people to donate to a crowdfunding appeal, such as the recent Grenfell Tower disaster. Social media can help amplify causes because the key to winning hearts and minds is through storytelling and building a community.
Think of social media as a touch point. Once someone engages with a cause on social media, they are a warm contact. If they then go on to sign a petition, sign up to a newsletter or donate money, it is then up to charities to nurture that relationship and make it go the distance. The right technology can help automate processes and make user journeys frictionless.
Revolutionise your processes
Charities are doing the most important work in society yet are often restricted by inferior technology. Low or zero budgets means having to make do with inefficient CRM systems, or free technology which isn’t built for the sector and is therefore not fit for purpose.
Social media is the leveller where every charity, no matter its size, is on an even playing field. A clear strategy is needed in order to make the most of available resources, to produce quality content, engage with audiences and then analyse efforts. Once a strategy is in place, the appropriate tools can then be sourced to help with efficiency and effectiveness.
For now, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat are the big players in the social media space but they won’t be appropriate for every charity - and, of course, there are new platforms emerging all the time. If time and resource are limited, make sure they’re spent wisely.
Before jumping on a platform, charities must spend time researching whether it will be worth the investment and if it’s sustainable. Focus efforts on one or two platforms; for most charities, this will be Facebook and Twitter as they are the largest. Spend time crafting messages and using appropriate images or video as they are proven to increase engagement and help content stand out. Delve into the analytics to see which posts perform the best and then create more of that kind of content.
Don’t forget to include clear calls to action so that people are taken on a logical journey. For example, if posting about a new fundraising campaign, the call to action should ask people to sign up and a link to the sign-up page on the website should be included.
Social media is not a magic wand. A clear, well thought out strategy needs to be in place for charities to make the most of the opportunities that social media offers. Trustees need to understand its potential and that investment may be needed in order to reap the rewards. After all, a more engaged supporter base can enable impact to happen.
"Social media offers an unparalleled way to communicate directly with supporters, journalists, MPs and many other stakeholders compared to other methods of communication."
"A clear strategy is needed in order to make the most of available resources, to produce quality content, engage with audiences and then analyse efforts."
The onset of new social channels has opened up exciting and potentially rewarding ways for charities to engage with today’s connected consumers; however, the downside of spending more time and effort on getting out through these additional channels, without more budget, can often mean that brand strategy is being neglected.
Your charity may think it has a "brand message" but is this being communicated across all channels?
Checking on your brand
The way to check you have a brand is looking at "brand focus". There is an awful lot to consider when putting together an effective marketing plan, but the first thing to get right is brand focus. Among other things, this will dictate how to take a message to market.
All too often a marketing plan is done and dusted, perhaps even underway, when the brand hasn’t been truly defined or a proposition revisited in the past 12 months.
Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle strategy is very useful for scoping out a brand with the idea that we should start with "why". Asking why you do what you do, or why people respond to why you do what you do. How can you get people to support you, or buy from you, or be loyal if they don’t know why?
Moreover, starting with why is much more straightforward and valuable to a charity than to any consumer brand or B2B proposition. A charity’s why is a direct plug in to making the world a genuinely better place; and the why of a charity also carries integrity.
Constantly asking why, and asking the question across all areas of the charity, as well as supporters, can help to keep a brand focused and relevant.
New rules of engagement
So why is getting the "why" secured so important in the current media landscape? Because there are new rules of consumer engagement and tapping into these can transform the way a charity generates results through its multi-channel marketing.
The old model of customer engagement is based on the principles of the manufacturing age: “Company creates a brand (this is done through developing products and then advertising them); the brand then attracts its customer; the customer sustains the company though repeat purchase of the products.”
The new model is very similar, but with one subtle, crucial change. Instead of creating a product first, the company creates customers. This is done through product development and social media. It’s then the customer who creates and drives the brand though purchase and brand advocacy and, in turn, the brand sustains the company through brand loyalty driving repeat purchase.
This might seem counterintuitive, but it’s a new way of thinking that is being embraced by some of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple, Uber and airbnb.
They’re all making their brand something people can identify with, something people care about, something people are prepared to share. It used to be that the brand with the best products won. Now it’s the brand with the best customers that comes out on top.
Target market defines the brand
A "primacy of the customer" approach also means your brand isn’t what you say it is. Today, more than ever, your brand is what your target market says it is. If they believe in your why, they will promote your organisation. Because customers don't buy brands, customers create brands and they join brands.
The idea of "creating the customer" is so much more powerful today because customers have the tools and the audience to market themselves. Customers have the tools and the audience to market stuff they love. And customers write their own stories.
If we can provide our target market with an experience that they have a deep and emotional connection to, and with content to share, then they will want to tell people about it. Encourage them to do something inspirational, cool, daft or important and they will want to share this or post a photo of them doing it.
This is Behavioural Economics, a thinking straight out of Harvard. By garnering a following, a tribe, that has shared values with your organisation, your charity can build an army of foot soldiers who carry your message, tell your story, and market your brand.
This approach was illustrated most recently with last year’s Carers Trust Britain’s Biggest Breakfast campaign. Lots of quality content was put on the website and across social media channels, including a free downloadable recipe book featuring recipes from various food bloggers and campaign advocate Joanna Lumley. All this proved more popular than any previous years’ tactics. It generated more than 1 million unique views on Facebook alone.
While final numbers are still to be confirmed, the Carers Trust has reported considerably more participants than in previous years thanks to this latest approach.
This approach worked for England Netball and Cancer Research UK too. The partnership between the two organisations used social media to tap into England Netball’s membership of 96,000 women and girls, as well as the 1.5m who regularly play. Over five years the partnership raised over £2.5 million.
Garnering people power
People power is out there. It’s up to us to garner this power and put it to good use. Consider campaigning platform Change.org for example. Its members win “people-powered campaigns for social change” everyday, from eggs from caged hens withdrawn from supermarkets, to people saved from execution. These are massive victories and it wouldn’t be possible without the social influencers that technology has enabled over the past 10-15 years.
The "why" of a charity also shapes "how" you reach supporters in an integrated approach. In the words of Ivan Menezes, CEO of Diageo, “It’s not about doing ‘digital marketing’, it’s (now) about marketing effectively in a digital world.”
Also this is an important way to view all marketing per se. It’s time to break out of historical marketing silos and take a fresh look at integrated brand marketing, making sure that the "why" message is consistent across all brand touch points and using the channels that are the most important.
While the digital age has opened up more and more marketing channels for us to choose from and consider, this doesn’t mean we should use all channels. Also, it marks a line in the sand where offline methods now need to be superseded by digital and social – simply because they are more effective now.
Controlling the brand message
Controlling a brand message is more challenging than ever, but as we’ve identified it’s more important too. A neglect of brand strategy can risk a message being diluted, or, at worse, not present across a fragmented, ever-increasing number of channels. Moreover, why spend time operating an Instagram profile if this doesn’t reflect the rest of your comms or if your potential supporters aren’t there.
By having a clear view of who your potential supporters are, what they want from their interaction with your charity and what form of advertising has most relevance to them, and importantly using this insight to encourage consumers to promote your message, charities can really start to focus on delivering the right solutions to consumers' perceived problems with a stronger, more consistent integrated plan.
Getting involved in a shouting match, across more channels, has much less impact than ensuring cohesion, consistency and relevance of your cause at every touchpoint.
"All too often a marketing plan is done and dusted, perhaps even underway, when the brand hasn't been truly defined or a proposition revisited in the past 12 months."
"A neglect of brand strategy can risk a message being diluted or, at worst, not present across a fragmented, ever-increasing number of channels."
Public affairs can seem like a daunting world shrouded in smoke, mystery and skullduggery. But over the last fifteen years the time of the backroom deals made by greying lobbyists over a cigar and whisky have been left behind as we are moving towards a more transparent politics. In turn, this leads to opportunity for charities across the country to access public affairs and influence policy to aid their cause.
Charities, no matter how big or small, can have their say. It is no longer possible for a letter to be ignored or information to be withheld, without the possibility of being called out. Add to that the pressure social media can place on politicians and a well targeted campaign can have impactful results.
Define your goals
Before embarking on any campaign, it is important to understand, at all levels of the organisation, exactly what it is you aim to achieve. Are you aiming to increase awareness amongst decision makers, increase funding or, perhaps, change policy? Whatever your goals they need to be clearly defined before the campaigns begins. There is no point focusing on 30 issues as your messaging will get lost and there will be no clear ask coming out of your campaign.
Politicians do not want to know what you think about interfaith issues in America if you are seeking funding for a UK project. Similarly, they have no interest in your view on the National Health Service if you would like to ban e-cigarettes. Rather choose a cause; you can’t do everything at once. One policy or cause is more likely to succeed, even if it is the tip of the iceberg, rather than looking to cure all the world’s ills in one campaign. This will allow you to tailor your campaign to those who can impact your charity (and come in on budget).
Animal Aid has many issues it wishes to campaign on regarding the raising, transport and slaughter of livestock. However, in the past two years it has been successful in engaging parliamentarians in its campaign by focusing specifically on the introduction of CCTV into slaughterhouses by only discussing this issue and its wider benefits. By focusing on a narrow topic they have gained media and parliamentary support as well as the backing of food leading manufacturers across the UK.
Talk to the right person
We have all been there when we have just made the world’s best complaint/pitch/plea only to be told that you are talking to the wrong person. Once you know what you want to achieve, the next step is to identify the individuals who can help you to achieve your goal. Detailed stakeholder mapping can be the difference between two good meetings and six months of chasing your own tail. Lists of councillors, elected representative and relevant trade bodies are widely available online.
Whilst local representatives – councillors, MPs and (for now) MEPs – are likely to have a vested interest in your charity, it is also good to look for others who have an interest in your cause. So if health is your cause, some desk research into members of the All Party Political Group into Health will provide you with a ready-made list of interested MPs. Many APPGs also host events that will give you an opportunity to network, engage with other interested parties and position yourself as a thought leader in your area.
Just one able advocate can take a campaign from a local excursion to a legislation changer. This is a tactic which can be employed particularly effectively by small charities. Lillian’s Law is a perfect example of how a hyper-local issue can expand to engage with the legislative process. Fourteen year old Lillian Groves was struck and killed by a speeding car driven by a man under the influence of drugs in 2010. Following her death, her family campaigned tirelessly for a zero tolerance approach to be adopted when sentencing drug drivers, in the same way as drink drivers.
The campaign was taken on by local MP Gavin Barwell, who persuaded the then Prime Minister to include the Bill in the Queen's Speech. It was eventually adopted onto the statute books and became law in 2015. All from a low level campaign run by the teenager’s family.
If you are strategic, you are more likely to be successful. Targeting a member of the Shadow Cabinet who will never be able to make progress with government, has few, if any, benefits. Knowing the political system will allow you to encourage politicians to use tools such as e-petitions, Early Day Motions or Adjournment Debates to have your issue raised and increase exposure. It is unlikely that they will come up with the ideas themselves, although it might be good if they think they did, so make sure you have the knowledge to make suggestions if needed.
Day to day campaigning
Well written letters to key stakeholders, following up to secure a meeting and being coherent when you all sit down are really important. If you are able to make it relevant, you are more likely to be able to secure a meeting, so monitoring the media is crucial. If you can link your cause to the news it suddenly becomes topical.
Make sure your messages are clear and that you have a simple and easy to follow leave behind which can be used as a briefing for the next time the politicians needs to raise the topic. It is also important to understand what influences the decision makers. Do they have an adviser who really makes most of the decisions or is their main source of information the Daily Telegraph whilst eating their cornflakes? The more your messages are seen and heard by the right decision maker, the more likely the campaign will be successful. But this does mean that low level campaigns aren’t successful.
Good PR will help any public affairs campaign. But it is more important to prepare lines to quash those opposing your campaign than to be proactive with your PR. You can be having the most productive behind the scenes discussions with public leaders but one bad article can set you back years.
It took only seven months for Kids Company to go from having a £3 million grant approved by the Government to closing its doors mired in scandal. Preparing for the worse will allow you to bat away obvious scrutiny and ensure your campaign can maintain momentum throughout.
How a good campaign works
However small a public affairs campaign, there will always be benefits for your charity. There could be anything from building relationships to gaining a more in depth understand of what’s going on in your area, all the way through to creating a new law or bringing about real change.
Before you begin, define a clear budget, resources and timescale to deliver the campaign. This will need to be regularly measured and research should be conducted throughout to back it up with statistics. There is no one size fits all in this area, rather a thorough check of how many meetings are planned or how many new followers you have on Twitter are equally good guides to the success of a campaign.
There are no short cuts
No matter what the cause, be prepared for the long haul! Nothing happens overnight and especially not in politics. Don’t overwhelm audiences with arguments, keep it simple and be prepared for the alternative views so that you can rebut criticism quickly.
Set yourself short, mid and long term goals and keep assessing what you have achieved. If you are able to make your case as local and personal as possible then your chances increase, but given time anything is possible. The effort you put in to get to know key stakeholders and their staff, even if you don’t see the results now, will pay off in the long term.
Charities are missing a golden opportunity to create compelling emotional engagement. That’s the key message emerging from our recent analysis based on research of the top UK charities. Apart from a handful of exceptional examples of good practice, most value statements have become generic, bland and undifferentiating
Playing it safe with generic values, confusing them with internal behaviours and not being bold enough are the key traps organisations are falling into in their bid to reassert trust.
The once clear delineation that existed between the charity sector and the corporate sector has blurred. Both sectors appear to have swapped their language - the corporate sector has started focusing on passion and heart whilst the charity sector is aiming to sound more effective and businesslike. Where the corporate sector is focusing on the value of doing good, charities are aiming to be seen as more professional, talking about impact, returns and investment.
Losing value focus
Losing this focus on their values has resulted in many charities unconsciously allowing their positions to erode.
Whilst charities are naturally risk averse, they need to recognise that the only risk in this current climate is standing still. As the sector is disrupted by technology, increasing competition, and changing donor behaviour, it’s the actions they take that break through and deliver impact.
Here are some key actions to be undertaken so as to ensure a charity brand is firing on all its cylinders and using the full potential of its authentic values:
Ditch generic "table stake"values
Table stakes are those values that are shared across a sector, expected and assumed by all, but that are often considered "things that we should probably say".
The main problem with using a table stake as one of your values is that you end up stating the obvious or telling people what they already know. In the private sector the most common table stake values are "professional" and "dynamic". So what table stakes did the survey find in the charity sector? Some of the worst offenders were "honest" (10% of the charities researched), "passionate" (25%) and "committed" (25%).
These values are almost universal in the charity sector; it’s like stating that you are "altruistic". You may know a few organisations that lack these qualities in your area but chances are they will claim they have them anyway.
The bare minimum to aim for when choosing and expressing your values is to not waste your audience’s time by simply telling them what type of organisation they can expect to find in the charity sector. What’s more, it can arouse suspicion, “Why do you feel the need to say you’re honest?!”
Distinguish values from behaviours
Almost 35% of the charities looked at showed evidence of confusing "values" and "behaviours". The simple rule is this: Don’t tell me you’re funny, make me laugh! In other words, demonstrate you are professional, inclusive, transparent, etc. and use your values statement for something really engaging and differentiating.
This is understandable, as values, which are external communications tools, and behaviours, which are internal management tools, have a similar sounding, positive, meaning-laden vocabulary. Using "respect" (28%) and "effective" (16%) are examples of this.
Crucial opportunity lost
However, the key difference is that behaviours are "the standards you operate to" and values are "the principles behind your actions". When these two get confused a crucial opportunity to engage and connect is lost. In the worst examples one found values statements that read like the internal strategy documents they were probably copied and pasted from!
Your values should be about why you do what you do. They’re an opportunity to connect by saying what drives you, what you believe and what are you not prepared to tolerate. They are not an occasion to talk about your equal opportunities policy or customer focus.
In addition to those relying on generic table stakes and standard internal behaviours, 28% of the charities looked at didn’t explicitly talk about their values at all. Now, if their values shine through strong copy and engaging branding then that’s one thing, but if it is a deliberate attempt not to alienate or offend then it is a serious misjudgment.
All charities are expected to have core beliefs and want to see a change in the world. Over a third of the charities researched cited "equality" as one of their key values, therefore they should really be upsetting someone somewhere because if not, they aren’t fighting the vested interests that perpetuate inequality.
So what to do? If playing it safe will leave you drowned out, indistinct and unengaging does that mean you have to be "dangerous"? No, not dangerous and certainly not reckless but bold, ambitious, leading and real.
Standing for something
Draw your values out from the organisation and tell them well. Tell people who you are and why it matters that you exist. If you don’t take a stand for something, you may as well not stand for anything. By trying to please everyone and playing it safe, you could risk not getting through to anyone.
Get past the obvious
Remember, in a crowded market, people will listen to you and give you time and money when they care about your cause and share the values that drive your approach.
Don’t waste the opportunity to use value statements to say something really engaging and differentiating.
When emotional engagement is the goal, lead with the "why" rather than the "what" or "how".
Driving your approach
Talk with people who care and tell them how your values drive your approach.
The solution is not to make something up; if you can’t find anything genuine then be prepared to fundamentally change who you are.
The objective is to identify the truth of what you stand for, and then tell it well.
Your values are about why you do what you do. Values are about the principles that drive you.
Stand for something, cause a reaction, get past the obvious and taken for granted, remember who you represent and find something genuine. Then people will rally to your cause, give you the funds you need and make you the change-maker you were conceived to be.