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Why The Charity Sector Needs To Innovate - And Fast

25/11/2016 12:20

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Photo credit: Pixabay

You'd have to have been hiding in a fairly deep hole to have missed everything that's gone on this year.

2016 has seen significant tension surface in a number of western countries, and the political drama that has unfolded has been of the sort usually reserved for history books and Hollywood.

Like many, I've found a lot of it difficult to swallow. To the point where that hole in the ground actually sounds quite pleasant. But I'm not here to lament. However you look at the world, we're all going to have to start fronting up to new realities. And the sooner we do it, the better.

One group that might be facing more change than most is the charity sector. The threat of continuing currency fluctuations, stagnating economies and funding cuts will be front-of-mind as leaders plan for 2017 and beyond.

Charities will need to adapt. They will need to account for where income might be squeezed, and focus on areas where they have more control.

Public donations would be a good place to start. Put simply, charities need to find new ways of raising money from you and me. Today's political context aside, innovation is long overdue.

Negative public sentiment has been building around tired and, in some cases, aggressive fundraising methods. Data from Mintel shows that 58% of people in the UK think that charities use unethical fundraising tactics. Many are put off by direct and invasive approaches. 48% of us are actively discouraged from donating by a phone call from charities. And we've all honed our own techniques to avoid the clipboard-wielding 'chuggers' on our way to work.

Pressure has been mounting as a result. Earlier this year the Charity Commission sent a formal warning to 1,700 charities believed to be using forceful tactics, encouraging a comprehensive review of fundraising methods.

On top of all that, the methods charities are employing to raise money from the public just haven't kept pace. Stuff the Fourth Industrial Revolution - charities aren't even using the internet properly yet.

Look at the main ways people are donating in the UK. 35% are donating in charity shops. 33% at collection boxes in shops. 25% are sponsoring someone in an event (not online). 24% are contributing to street collections. In person, we're a pretty altruistic bunch.

But the picture in the digital world isn't nearly as good. Only 16% are donating to fundraising campaigns online. And that number is actually declining - down from 17% in 2014. Just 15% are buying products from a charity online. A mere 8% are donating directly on charities' websites. It goes on.

These figures might surprise you. After all, if you're reading this, you've made your way onto the internet (welcome), and you're probably part of the 16%. If you're anything like me, most if not all of your donations over the last year have been to support an online campaign in one way or another. Sponsoring a friend running a marathon via JustGiving. Supporting a friend taking on Movember. Donating to Children in Need via their website.

The most popular ways of giving to charity say something about the people who are donating. Put simply, the over-65s are much more likely to give to charity than younger generations, and charities are over-reliant on them. Innovation will go a long way to start solving that problem, too.

It's not all doom and gloom. There have been some great examples in recent years of the sort of innovation the fundraising the charity sector needs. Social media campaigns have raised important money for deserving causes. The news that funds raised by #icebucketchallenge directly led to ground-breaking genetic discoveries in the fight against ALS was among the best I've read this year. Online fundraising platforms have continued to grow - JustGiving has now helped people in 164 countries raise over $3.3 billion. And Facebook is rolling out a new donate button.

But we need more. More ideas. More innovation. Online fundraising platforms are important but they've got to be a place for more than just marathon runners and mountain climbers. Viral social media campaigns are great, but they're sporadic and a victim of fashion; I'm pretty sure Movember isn't the beacon of 'lad culture' it once was. 

If the charity sector is going to put two fingers up to what's gone on in the last six months (one for Trump, one for Farage) then it's going to need more ways for more people to raise more money.

The answers probably need to tap into emotions and relationships. They probably need to involve technology. And they definitely need to target younger people.

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