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+10 experience in digital marketing

Digital Marketing and the Third Sector

24 April 2018 9:38am

Charities have been using the web to promote their cause and connect with their audiences for many years. Social media forms an integral part of many organisations’ marketing strategy, and their website – promoted through SEO and PPC – can be the first point of contact a potential beneficiary or donor has with a charity.

In today’s switched-on world, the attitude towards charity and not-for-profit organisations in changing rapidly. Today’s online generation is very much tuned in to a deeper sense of social responsibility and justice. Social media is rife with videos and posts showcasing altruism in all its forms – from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to the candid videos of people helping out the homeless. Whether or not you believe these videos to be helpful or self-serving, the passion to help fellow man is better showcased online than ever before.

Charities are Getting Inventive

So, if you run a charity or non-profit, how do you make your way through a saturated market to get the significant donations you need? It starts with a change in strategy.

One of the main reasons digital marketing in the third sector is so effective is that it is viewed as a much fairer and trackable medium than other traditional methods, such as television, print and OOH (out-of-home) advertising. The budgets may differ from organisation to organisation, but there is a level playing field insofar as the methods are the same and, when utilised correctly, the exposure can be just as great.

However, digital marketing is not just used for spreading the message and attracting donors. Charities are now getting more inventive to keep up with the changing perspective on giving. Organic campaigns are seeing huge popularity, such as the aforementioned Ice Bucket Challenge – which saw thousands across the globe take part and raise over $100million – or the inspirational stories of Stephen Sutton who publicised his own struggles in order to raise funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Even after his untimely passing at the age of just 19, his legacy lives on through his actions, and the publicity raised via social media inspired many others.

Heavy-handed approaches and guilt-tripping rarely work in securing donations, particularly when there are thousands of causes to give to. The key for many third sector organisations is to move away from what could be deemed as ‘pestering’ and into a more inclusive, involved approach.

Differentiating Yourself from the Crowd

Gravytrain’s work with numerous charities has put us in good stead to recommend digital as a positive way to improve engagement and, ultimately, get more donations and interest from beneficiaries.

Children in Crisis utilised SEO and PPC techniques, as well as the design and build of a dedicated landing page saw a marked improvement – 120% increase in average monthly clicks, 275% increase in average CTR and an increase of time on page going from 1 second to 15. This demonstrated that the public are more than willing to get involved and give, if they can find the right avenue and the right charity.

Employing these kind of techniques, as well as organic methods, is the best way to make a small budget move further. The Movember Foundation is one of the most prevalent success stories, showing how an idea can develop into a culturally influential and highly-regarded organisation. Something as simple as growing a moustache has now become synonymous with improving men’s health, from male cancers to mental health and suicide prevention. The language used on their website – “Our fathers, partners, brothers and friends face a health crisis that isn’t being talked about. Men are dying too young. We can’t afford to stay silent” – is emotive. We are reminded that these people are our relatives and our blood, and this brings donors that little bit closer to the issue. Movember is the perfect example of an inclusive campaign that has grown bigger than the foundation could ever have predicted.

Online is Not Just for Giving

We like to believe that everyone would give to every charity if they had endless funds, but we all know this to be unrealistic. People want to give, but they are somewhat savvier than they used to be. Fundraising websites like Just Giving are giving individual cases a platform from which to be heard, and use petitions to raise awareness of causes which may then link to a landing page for donations.

In 2015, collecting tins counted for 37.6% of all charitable donations in England, with just 4.4% donating online via JustGiving or other such platforms. In 2016, however, online giving increased. In 2016, social media, apps, and websites attracted 26% of all donations (making a total of £2.4billion), and 17% of people donating via their mobiles. These statistics, from the CAF UK Giving Report, support the changing mentality of the contemporary online user. Many other industries, from retail to recruitment, are targeting their demographics in increasingly evocative and personal ways, and the third sector should be no different.

In fact, Gravytrain has seen success in recruitment for the charity sector through our work with children’s hospice Shooting Star Chase. With a relatively small budget, they were looking for a cost-effective alternative to often expensive recruitment activities. We created a dedicated landing page, with highly-focused keywords, to draw in potential candidates in order to fill two nursing positions.

Using a PPC campaign optimised to obtain direct enquiries and recommendations, as well as UX improvements to their online contact form, Shooting Star Chase were able to fill both positions within one month at a fraction of the cost of a recruitment agency.

Cost was not the only benefit over traditional recruitment, Shooting Star Chase were also afforded greater control over the length of their campaign, the messaging associated with it, and the routes it took to market. Essentially, they were able to combine increased brand awareness with their job search, resulting in the successful onboarding of new candidates and increased brand reach.

What Tools Can Charities Use?

For many charities, the idea of spending big to attract large donations is counter-intuitive. There may also be a danger of alienating potential donors by employing an obviously expensive campaign or brand awareness exercise. Why would they want to donate when they can see large amounts of cash being put into advertising and marketing?

There are tools out there that are intended at helping charity organisation adapt and grow their online presence. Google Ad Grants offers up to £8000 per month for charity AdWords campaigns, allowing charities to closely monitor their ad spend and have a better understanding of how to promote they cause.

Simply giving charity websites an overhaul can significantly affect donations. Gravytrain worked with British Red Cross to audit their Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools, as well as analyse competitors and offer keyword research and modelling. Having a greater knowledge of user experience can only benefit organisations looking to target specific demographics.

Another great example of change is the rebrand of the Prostate Cancer Charity to Prostate Cancer UK. The rebrand saw a change in both name and logo, moving from the word ‘charity’ to something more all-encompassing. Speaking to, director of marketing and communications, Seamus O’Farrell, said, “We needed to be far more distinctive and noticeable to reach thousands more men who need to know how they can benefit from our specialist nurses, support and advice.” This was underpinned with their new logo, featuring the silhouette of a man made up of lots of other men. “We are all in it together,” was the message, and it is one that can speak to a new, more outwardly socially-aware demographic.

What Value Can Agencies Bring to Charities?

In terms of agency influence, charities can glean a great deal from and experienced agency’s approach to third sector marketing. Creating the right messaging to get to the crux of what makes a person donate, and positioning the brand via the best channels is an agency’s bread and butter. Moreover, in a competitive market, it can be hard for some charities not to get into a mindset of guilt-tripping. What an agency will do is use their knowledge of general user behaviour as well as analytics to create a targeted campaign that will not annoy, but rather engage.

Agencies can also help charity organisations achieve Google Ad Grant status, which will result in the continued funding of ad spend, thereby giving a charity their own budget. Whether it is ongoing paid support, or a one-off pro bono project, agencies can help charities move forward to help themselves, giving them the tools and knowledge of marketing best-practice they need in order to continue spreading their message.


third sector
non profit
third sector
non profit
third sector
non profit