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Charities need to innovate, not advertise, to stay alive

By James Wood, head of Earnest Labs



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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April 9, 2018 | 5 min read

One of the major issues charities struggle with is that their donation channels and experiences are not keeping up with changing consumer behaviour. Like with other businesses, consumers want charities to keep up with the way they live and utilise the technology they use daily – including the use of mobile technology, voice search and new forms of payment.

Tap App

That 'Tap for Change' app makes one-off charity donations easier to give than loose change

Take mobile use as an example – one of the big things charities should be utilising for donations. In December the humble text message turned 25, but it was many years later, in 2010, that the first text-to-donate platform was launched. It’s only now that major charities are starting to use it as a mainstream fundraising channel.

But the world has continued to change and charities are again struggling to adapt. Whatsapp has 1 billion daily active users, however no major charity or giving platform has adapted to the new ways people communicate with each other to enable donations and fundraising. However, not everyone is being left in the dust – there are some organisations that are shining through when it comes to innovating the way they raise funds and enable donations. Charity: Water is a non-profit organisation run by the incredible Scott Harrison, who revolutionised fundraising when he founded it back in 2006.

Not only did Scott break the mould by creating a business model where 100% of donations went directly to charity projects (with operational costs coming from investors), he focused on being the charity that was known for using new media channels and technologies to enable donations.

He also runs forward thinking fundraising programmes such as ‘donate your birthday’ and the ‘someone like you quiz’ that enables you to donate to someone most like you, as well as a subscription-based donation model that brings in regular revenue – another example of making fundraising easier and keeping up with trends that consumers use on a regular basis.

There are other techniques you can adopt to address people’s need to be involved in the process of charity. Help Refugees’ Choose Love shop on Broadwick Street, sitting among the hustle and bustle of Soho, is a pop-up shop that offers a retail experience with a difference. Anyone who walks in can browse a number of physical items to buy – from coats to tents to mobile phones. But the twist is that everyone leaves empty handed, with each purchase being donated to someone caught up in the refugee crisis that needs it most.

The Choose Love shop hails a creative innovation in charitable giving that so many organisations should be calling out for, and more importantly, developing. And while many charities continue to produce great advertising and other communications, it’s the ways in which they enable donors to give that needs the most attention.

Agencies need to lead the charge in helping charities innovate the way they raise funds. Created off the back of the insight that cash payments are falling year-on-year and contactless payments are rapidly rising, Earnest created ‘Tap for Change’ which offers a one-stop-shop for charities to set up contactless donation units to replace the old shaker buckets. It also partners with charities like Mary’s Meals to create donations programmes with contactless donations at the heart, like Lunchbox, which enables people buying their lunch to feed a child for a week with a tap of their card.

It’s new ways of thinking like this that the charity sector will need to focus on as it becomes an increasingly challenging place to grow. This could be the most exciting and fruitful time for fundraising organisations, but a shift from a focus on telling people why they should donate to making it as simple as possible to donate should be the priority.

James Wood is head of Earnest Labs at B2B agency Earnest.

This article was originally published in the charity issue of The Drum Network magazine series. You can purchase your copy here.


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Earnest is the award-winning B2B marketing agency that’s chasing out the humdrum in London and New York.

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