Monthly Archives: May 2011

The real Big Society is already here – and you need to be ready

Society – and expectations – are changing fundamentally, with huge implications for charities that go way beyond anything contained in the new Giving White Paper

The Government has put Charity and the Voluntary Sector at the heart of the latest re-launch of its Big Society project.

Among the facts and figures about giving and taking, Social Action Funds and the intriguingly titled Spice system, is a section about Impact Reporting.

It’s only two paragraphs in a 68-page document, but – perhaps inadvertently – it goes to the heart of the real Big Society that is emerging with or without David Cameron’s cheerleading and which goes far beyond anything set out in the rest of the paper in addressing the future of charity work – and much more besides.

In a nutshell, Impact Reporting is a buzzword for accountability – letting donors “decide which opportunities are right for them and where they feel their money (and time) will be best spent”.

There’s talk of charity comparison websites – a sort of – but little detail, just a promise of more to come at the Giving Summit in the Autumn.

But the reality is this level of accountability between donor and charity is happening anyway, on a scale far larger than the Government realises and in a way that is changing the ballgame not just for charities but for the whole of society. And it starts on the web.

The “Facebook Revolution”

Facebook, and Social Media as a whole, has been getting a lot of attention recently – from Twitter’s part in the breakdown of the Super Injunction system to Facebook’s role in the fall of governments in the Middle East.

The popular uprising in Egypt has even been dubbed the “Facebook Revolution” – based on the role of the platform as a means of organising direct action.

However, this is largely missing the point. Egypt was no more the “Facebook Revolution” in that way than Berlin 1989 was the “Telephone Revolution” – a means of communication does not make people risk their lives in challenging an authoritarian regime. And Twitter was a means – not a reason – for the open defiance of court orders.

There is, as is often said, a “Social Media Revolution” happening, but forget the media part – it’s a social revolution.

Among the many interviews taking place during the dramatic events in Egypt was a BBC report asking young Cairo protesters “why now”? There had been oppression before, but never this response. The answer was pretty clear: “We wanted things to change but we weren’t listened to”.

There is the real revolution – people expect to be listened to in a way that they never would have before. They expect to be at the heart of decisions, not informed about them afterwards.

Social Media, the rise of the web, has transformed society to the point where there is a complete transformation of the ancient relationship between the public and the bodies that act on their behalf – the governments, the law, the media – and charities.

Injunctions are broken not just because it’s technically easier, but because in the information age we refuse to let people control information. Governments are overthrown because being heard is now as much a part of our expectations as being fed.

Donors are the new Trustees

The mindset has been changed by the rise of the individual driven by Web 2.0, but the impact is not jut online – it is everywhere.

For charities it means there is now a need for openness on a scale never seen before. Social Media doesn’t just mean having a Facebook account or organising a flashmob.

It means accepting that your donors are now your trustees.

You are accountable to them not just in terms of telling them how their money is spent but in asking them about strategy and direction, in consulting with them on change, in making decisions about the future, in monitoring the charity to ensure it is meeting objectives.

We don’t want to put money into a detached body that takes our money to do something in our name – we want to be part of that organisation, we want to be spending our donations ourselves.

Accountability is more than reporting – it’s involving. It’s letting supporters run campaigns on your behalf, crowd-sourcing ideas, providing support to looser affiliations of like-minded individual campaigners rather than asking them to support you.

There’s a popular viral video, set to the music of Fat Boy Slim that sets out the staggering scale of Social Media take-up. Among the pop-video bombast is a simple quote that sums up the real cost of not facing up to realities of the change that’s occurring: “The ROI on Social Media is that your organisation will still be here in 10 years”

The ROI on facing up to the social revolution – online and offline – is the same.

Facebook Basics for Charities Part 3: Turning a Profile into a Page

This is an issue a couple of clients have recently brought up, so I thought I’d write a bit of an explainer on it.

Most charities are now using Facebook in one way or another – but it’s never been the most user-friendly platform in terms of explaining its own rules (including privacy – but that’s another story!)

One of the rules that often catches charities out is the rule on when to use a Profile as opposed to a Page.

When people first sign up for Facebook, they create a Profile. The Profile is designed to be just that – a profile of an individual. It is not meant to be used by businesses – including charities.

However, this is not very explicit. The result is, many, many charities have set up their Profile to be the main page for promoting their charity.

Lost information

Some have found out the hard way that this is against Facebook’s rules – seeing their Profiles removed and losing all profile information, including photos, wall posts, messages and friend lists.

For Charities, you should really be setting up a Page – I go into this in Facebook Basics For Charities: Part 1: Page or Group?

To tackle this, Facebook has recently introduced a new tool to allow you convert your Profile into a Page.

You will need to save all your profile info – posts, friend lists etc – before doing it as they will disappear and the process is irreversible.

Time to change

A Page is set up to work differently from a Profile (the most obvious being that Page followers Like you rather than become a friend) so be sure to check out how a Page works before doing this.

But if you are running your charity Facebook presence via a Profile, it’s a very good idea to change rather than risk having your profile removed. The fact Facebook has now published this tool suggests its about to get tougher on “inappropriate” use of Profiles.

More than a number: SMS donations need new engagement

An initiative to help charities collect donations through text messages is being heralded as an opportunity for smaller charities to encourage more donations from the hard-to-reach 18-24 year old age group. But is it?

JustTextGiving – a collaboration between and Vodafone – will allow any of the UK’s 184,000 charities to set themselves up to receive donations via text, with no commission taken by suppliers. Previously, set-up costs and commission have made text giving prohibitively expensive for all but the biggest charities.

Anne-Marie Huby, Managing Director of JustGiving, said: “The future success of the charitable sector depends on making giving relevant for the next generation of donors and fundraisers – with mobiles a pocket essential, the ability to harness the power of a simple text is game-changing for the country’s charities.”

Comic Relief

Comic Relief is often cited as an example of the success in getting donations via text. About a quarter of its record-breaking total in 2011 was raised via SMS.

On the surface that looks like a huge opportunity. But Comic Relief is, in reality, an unrealistic poster boy for SMS giving.

The very nature of Comic Relief night is to have a huge audience fully engaged and ready to give. In fact, the traditional message of Comic Relief is to be ready with your phone to call in your donation. All SMS giving did was allow people who were ready to give to find an alternative way to use their phone – it didn’t necessarily create a new giving environment.

The thousands of smaller charities who can now use SMS giving don’t have a captive audience waiting with fingers poised. For them, simply having the capacity to collect text donations is not going to be enough.

Engagement challenge

Without SMS-specific engagement strategies, the service is likely to be no more effective than the online Donate Now button – something we equate to the charity box in the corner shop, a passive collector of the odd penny rather than an active fundraising tool unless a real and specific encouragement to action is attached to it.

To fully take advantage of the SMS opportunity, smaller charities still need to think of ways of using it to engage younger donors – a problem I’ve highlighted previously.

If a 22 year old won’t drop a pound in your charity box, neither will they text in a fiver.

But SMS does present to opportunity of immediacy, as long as the message is right. To work, charities will still need to find messages that appeal to younger donors and deliver them in a way that makes the act of giving part of the engagement process.

Viral videos, online games, Tweets, email – all have the capacity to include simple one-click connection to SMS giving. And with younger people increasingly using their mobiles to access these you can find yourself in the same position as Comic Relief – talking about your compelling message to someone who is there with their phone in their hand.

This is the audience you are after – and this is where the opportunity comes in. Those charities who make the most of the SMS opportunity will be those who don’t see it as just another way of giving, but as part of an interactive engagement message.

What Comic Relief does so well is to make the act of giving by text a part of a two-way engagement – the donor joins in the event by a simple act of giving and becomes part of it. JustGiving does this brilliantly too, by being effectively a social platform where you become part of the conversation when you give.

The challenge now is to create the conversations that young people want to be part of – if you can do that, SMS giving could really become the tool that its cheerleaders say it is.