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.

Finding a place for your charity on Foursquare

If you read any articles at the turn of the year on predicted technology trends for 2011 you’d have probably seen predictions that this would be the year of location-based social networking.

Platform such as Gowalla, Google Latitude and Foursquare, as well as applications on Twitter and Facebook, allow users to “check-in” to specific locations, leave tips, claim bragging rights, let friends know where they are etc.

Nearly half way through the year, location-based social networking is yet to grab the public consciousness in the way Twitter or Facebook has in recent years, and penetration is still comparatively low.

However, there’s no doubt that the growth of these platforms is impressive – and so is the potential.

Charities are already using social networking as an important engagement tool, but at present there is little being done using location-based platforms.

Retailer Marks and Spencer has been raising money for Breakthrough Breast Cancer through a Foursquare promotion which gives £1 for each of the first 25,000 people who checks in at one of their stores, and there have been a number of other corporate uses which support charities.

But what opportunities are there for charities themselves to use location-based platforms?

Suggested uses for loc-social

Taking Foursquare as an example, the possibilities include:

Location-based charities are the most obvious candidates for using Foursquare. This can mean any charity that has a property which engages commercially with the public – from heritage and conservation charities with multiple properties and millions of visitors, to the humble charity shop.

Encourage visitors and customers to log-in by making offers available via Foursquare. For instance, free entry for the current Mayor, or random “lucky-dip” discounts for people checking in (even if it’s just a free cup of tea!)

Like all social media, it’s the social element that matters. Users’ friends see where they are checking in – the more people checking in at your charity, the more awareness there is.

In a similar vein, encourage people to leave tips. Leaving tips on a place where you have checked in is one of the most exciting elements of Foursquare. At the moment, the potential of this seems to have been overlooked, and its often hard to find many, or even any, tips left at locations.

However, the tips facility has enormous potential. Think of it as a real-world search engine and review platform. People who are new to an area check in and can see not only what there is nearby (restaurants, shops, attractions, pubs etc) but what people actually think of them.

Again, for location-based charities this has a lot of potential – whether that’s letting people know what they can do at your visitor centre, how good the cakes are in your tea-shop, or even that your charity shop often has a great collections of children’s books.

Encourage your users to leave tips – again, prizes or discounts for tippers can be an effective encouragement.

Leaving “Easter Eggs” is another approach – particularly for location-based charities which have large visitor centres and/or multiple locations.

The Easter Egg concept comes from video games – where users can unlock surprise extra levels by finding hidden interactions in the game.

Allowing users to unlock benefits by checking in from different locations can be a great way to get them to visit your whole centre, make repeat visits or visit more than one location – maybe pop into your visitor shop or cafe, or use other facilities that might have passed them by.

Tie-ins with business also have great potential for fundraising, as shown by Marks and Spencer. For this, you don’t even need to be location-based – the business provides the location.

Larger businesses are always keen to show their charity credentials – and a tie-up like this has the double benefit of positive business PR and encouraging extra custom, particularly where the retailer ties the fundraising in with offers of its own to shoppers.

It doesn’t have to be major retailers either, for location-based charities which pull in visitors reciprocal arrangements with local cafes, restaurants hotels etc can also work. For instance, if a visitor checks in to both your charity and a local restaurant, the restaurant gives a proportion of the customer spend to the charity.

You can also get businesses to promote you by adding a visit to you to their tips. The UK Foreign Office does this to raise awareness of its embassy service when people check in to airports, major tourist venue and hotspots around the world. In return, you can leave a reciprocal tip.

These are just a few suggestions for using Foursquare (and apply to other location-based services equally). I’d be interested to hear from any charities out there who are using these services to see what ideas you’ve had and what the results have been.

Marketing your marketing – the challenge for charities

Almost 60% of donors are concerned that charities are spending donations on administration and fundraising. The figures, from research carried out for the Fundraising Standards Board, demonstrate one of the continuing challenges faced by fundraising and marketing teams in charity organisations – justifying their own existence to the people who pay for them.

The reason is obvious – a donor wants to feel their money is “directly” helping the cause they care about. If I give £100 to help homeless people, I’m going to feel more of a sense of having done something if I can “see” that £100 paying for warm clothing and a meal than if it goes into the pocket of a marketing manager or chief exec.

The messages charities give out in their marketing are all about that – creating an emotional bond between the donor and the individual(s) they are helping, and making the donor feel their money has made a direct difference.

But the problem arises when the reality of running a charity – you need to employ people who aren’t on the front line – clashes with the ideal that is being marketed.

Concerned Donors

Sixty percent is a big proportion to be concerned. Donors concerned about their donations don’t stay donors for long.

But the reality is that charities spend money on administration and marketing because it helps them help more people. We are working with a charity which has suffered hugely because it has concentrated its resources exclusively on paying for front line services rather than administration and marketing. The result is, it’s income has suffered massively and it is now considerably less able to directly help the cause it was set up to tackle.

I make the rather obvious point that if marketing didn’t work, no-one would do it. Coca Cola spends $1.5bn a year directly on marketing – because it makes considerably more than that as a result.

The challenge is, getting this across to donors – that if we spend £1 of your money on marketing it is because we will get £1.50 back as a result. That by marketing our charity, we are able to help even more people you care about than if we didn’t. That if we don’t market ourselves, we won’t be able to do our job of helping your favourite cause. That if the right people aren’t in charge your money won’t be spent as wisely and effectively as it could be.

The irony is that by selling so strongly the idea of donor income going directly the front-line, charities’ marketing teams are potentially undermining their own work in the eyes of donors, and leading to donors questioning the funding of an area that is not only essential but which actually directly helps the provision of front-line services.

Trust and Confidence

It’s an enormous challenge, but as FRSB chief executive Alistair McLean said in response to the report: “If we are to alleviate donors’ concerns and build trust and confidence, we need to educate the public, conveying just how committed charities are to best practice, professionalism and accountability”.

More than education – we need to start marketing this aspect too, rather than hiding it behind claims of “every penny you give goes directly to help X” which can be misunderstood and lead to resentment, and donor disengagement.

Age concern for charities – where to find younger donors?

A report just published looking at charitable giving in the UK highlights one of the big issues for many charities – their donors are getting older.

The New State of Donation produced University of Bristol and City University London shows that while donations have increased substantially in real terms over the last three decades, there is a worrying rise in the proportion of donors in the older age groups.

The over-65s now account for more than a third of all donations, compared with a quarter in 1978. The problem with that for many charities – and I’ve seen it with many of my clients  – is that, to be blunt, their best donors are dying off.

The problem – and it’s a big one – for many charities is to find ways of engaging with younger donors.

Generation Gap

There is certainly – as suggested in this research – a generational difference in charitable outlook. The culture of charitable giving is no longer the same as it was when the current 0ver-65s were in their 20s.

However, that’s not to say it’s gone. Call me an optimist, but I still see evidence that younger people are just as willing to support charity as their grandparents were, they just need to be sold it in a very different way.

For older generations, charitable giving was often part of their social mores – it was expected. For younger people, its not about conforming, it’s about differentiating – choosing a charity has become like choosing a brand, you do it because it reflects the group you want to belong to, and to some extent those you don’t.

Selling the brand

For that reason, charities have to think like brands – and not be embarrassed about the fact they are selling a product and an aspiration.

Young people will support charities, but the charities have to engage them in the same way a brand would – by making sure that when they donate they get the same sense of peer approval, self-worth, self-identification and aspirational achievement that they get buying a pair of trainers. And that they get something to take home and show their peers afterwards.

And just to make it even trickier – they have to do that while not alienating the older age groups who are still the most important donors, and will be for the considerable medium term.

It’s a topic for a whole research project of its own, but some quick tips for engaging younger donors include:

  • Employ some young people – and talk to them (obvious, but it doesn’t always happen!)
  • Engage with younger people in their territory – online and in the real world. They won’t come to you, so you have to go to them. That means focusing on online engagement, not waiting for people to come to your website.
  • Stop the Chugging – it’s a great way to get short term relationships with donors, it’s an equally great way to alienate young people for life. Younger donors resent the hard sell and react against it.
  • Offer something in return. Volunteering for a charity is a great way to get work experience and enhance your CV prior to going to University or starting in the workplace. As competition gets tougher – the demand for good work experience is increasing. Sell this – through schools, connecting with training providers etc.
  • Be open – young donors are more cynical and more likely to research the good and bad of an organisation before supporting it. Don’t hide anything – especially online. If you aren’t opening up through social media, do it now. As a wise man said, the ROI on Social Media is that your organisation will still be here in 10 years.
  • Don’t try gimmicks – young people are no different to any other donors, they respond to powerful stories and evidence that they can make a difference. Stick to the basics of fundraising, but be imaginative in how you get those stories out there.
  • Get younger people on your board of trustees. An organisation that has decisions and direction being influenced by people from a younger generation will be much more engaged with younger supporters than one that doesn’t. Have a look around your board of trustees. If there is no-one there under the age of 27, do something about it. If there’s no-one under the age of 57, worry.

Social Media fundraising case study: The perfect storm

Just giving flashFundraising using social media can be like nailing jelly to the wall – even organisations like the Red Cross, with a huge online following, only leverage a tiny percentage of their overall donations via the web.

There are success stories though, and they tend to follow a very set formula:

  • Single, issue or individual-based appeals
  • A good back story
  • A clear picture of what the money will achieve
  • A realistic target
  • A deadline
  • Supported through traditional fundraising and PR channels

When all these things come together, you get the “perfect storm” for online fundraising.

Putting it together

I got a good first-hand example of this recently when one of our clients, horse rescue charity HorseWorld suffered a break-in the night after their annual fund-raising Christmas Carol concert.

The £5000 they had raised was stolen – a huge blow after one of their most important fundraising events of the year.

We’d recently been working with HorseWorld on strategising for social media, and – despite some initial reluctance – they decided this setback was an opportunity to dip their toes into the world of fundraising through social media.

Through their JustGiving page, and promoted via Facebook and Twitter – as well as in the press and through their other fundraising channels, they quickly met the target and at the last count were over £10,ooo to the good – 200% of the original money that was taken.

HorseWorld succeeded because they had – and created – the perfect social media storm:

Single issue: They were only looking to  replace money that was stolen, a very clear aim and a manageable scale.

A good back story: The burglary, especially at Christmas, was an emotive story. They followed up with some great update stories on individual givers to keep the story alive.

A clear picture of what the money will achieve: They equated the money to what it would it would have done for the horses in their care – paid for winter feed

A realistic target: It’s the oldest fundraising trick in the book, set a target that individual givers can see their small donation impacting- the “church roof appeal thermometer” technique.

A deadline: When people feel like they’d like to help, they can still need a sense of urgency to make them act. Setting a target, and  a time to reach it, can do that.

Supported through traditional fundraising routes: One of the key things I always say to fundraisers stepping into social media for the first time is to remember that it is simply a tool to help you do your traditional fundraising job, it’s not a different discipline. HorseWorld were extremely effective in leveraging local media, their supporters and existing donors to promote this campaign.

Challenges for small charities as big fish get bigger

One of the most comprehensive surveys of charitable giving has just been published and shows a picture of increasing donations being fought over by fewer and fewer charities.

The biennial Mintel survey shows overall charity income is up – the total annual income of charities grew by 48% between 2004 and 2009 whilst the average income per charity rose by 56%.

But, at the same time, the number of charities in operation has shrunk sharply – there are now 17,000 fewer charities than there were six years ago, according to Mintel who interviewed 2,000 people for the survey.

Swallowed up

It seems the extra money is mainly down to an increase in size of the major charities, those over £10m – the ones we’ve all heard of.

On the flip side, of course, this means that less money is going to smaller charities – and indeed some are unable to continue operating or are swallowed by the bigger charities.

The larger charities appear to have grown into leviathans, swallowing up the small fry or hoovering up all the available resources for themselves and starving their smaller competitors out of existence.

This is probably a little harsh on the bigger charities – some of whom are my clients and probably wouldn’t appreciate being compared to whales! But the analogy is apt, as while the large scale of the bigger charities will inevitably give them greater strength, the relative tiddlers have their advantages too.

Small but perfectly formed

One of the key issues for donors uncovered in the survey is the knowledge – or lack of it – of how the money is spent, particularly how much of their donation goes directly to the good work of the charities.

It’s no surprise then that those charities who have a trusted brand (and brand recognition is all about trust) are more easily able to persuade people to part with their money.

A small charity, without the marketing resource of a big name organisation, can’t expect to get anywhere near the same brand recognition. But what it has over the big fish is it’s agility.

Rather than focusing too much of their resources on measures like increasing brand recognition, smaller charities need to focus on starting, and then maintaining, direct relationships with individual donors.

They need to identify very specifically who is likely to donate to them, then look to engage with those people directly and as often as possible.

Giving more

Social media is a very good way of doing this. Whereas a major charity – even with its resources – may struggle to keep up with the thousands of people following them on Facebook, Twitter etc, a smaller charity will probably be in a better position to use social media as it should be used – for having conversations.

The smaller charity might have fewer people following it, but if they get a better, more personal experience – including telling them, and showing them, exactly where there money is going – then they are more likely to go on to be long-term and regular donors.

This is borne out by another recent survey by the Network for Good, which showed social media fared less well in getting donations from supporters than a branded donation section on a website. The reason? Probably because while donors are getting the messages and engagement needed to prompt them to give on the website, they are not getting it from social media. It’s not the platform – it’s how its being used, and smaller charities are often best placed to use it best.

The same applies in other forms of marketing – whether on the street or through the mail or in print – go after a smaller, more specific, group of donors and work hard to form a lasting relationship with all of them.

There’s plenty for smaller (and bigger) charities to be optimistic about – more than two thirds (68%) of adults have donated to charity in the last year and 83% plan to donate the same or more over the coming year.

So giving is on the up – and it’s up to the smaller charities to make sure they get their share.

Facebook Basics For Charities Part 2: Video – How to create a Facebook Page

Here’s a quick video guide to simply creating a Facebook Page for your charity.

Facebook Basics For Charities: Part 1: Page or Group?

This is the first of a series of articles looking at the “how” of setting up, managing and monitoring your Facebook presence. We’ll look at the “why” and “what” in future series.

One of the questions I’m frequently asked by charities setting up or re-organising their Facebook presence is whether they need to set up a Page or Group.

Quick answer – usually a Page.

There are three different statuses on Facebook, each designed for a different purpose:

  • Pages: The “official” Facebook presence of a business or organisation
  • Group: An issue-led rallying point for individuals interested in a common cause
  • Profile: An individual’s presence on Facebook

While your charity is likely to focus on common causes, it’s “individuals” that’s the key word with groups.

Groups can certainly be a way of people showing support for the aims of your charity – indeed it can be useful to encourage supporters to set up groups around your causes, and to support those groups that already do this.

But, if you are creating a presence for your charity on Facebook that will be run and monitored by your team with the purpose of promoting the charity itself, then a Page is the way to go.

What advantages are there to setting up a Page?

On a Page you can:

  • Be found through Google
  • Allow multiple administrators
  • Add video/audio
  • Customise your page
  • Import blog feeds
  • Easily send messages to all your “Likers” at once.
  • Customise your URL
  • Target specific user groups for messages

Put simply, a Page is designed to be used as a promotional and engagement tool for organisations like yours. Functionality is appropriate to this, and future functionality will follow the same principle.

Groups are designed to do a different job – you can set up a group as your Facbook presence, but you’ll be using a tool that was really designed to do something else, and consequently doesn’t do it as well.

In Summary

Pages should be used for your go-to presence on Facebook

Groups are great for getting support around specific issues you care about, engage with existing groups or encourage supporters in setting them up.

In Part 2 we’ll look at how you set up a Facebook Page, and some of the neat things you can do with them.