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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Charities must face up to the digital brave new world to survive

This opinion piece is almost 8 years old

Matthew Moorut of the Technology Trust says a recent report on how charities are failing to engage with new technology should be a wake up call

Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) and YouGov have just put out a short report based on research into donor behaviour, which states that charities are “behind the curve” in their use of tech and that this is hampering their abilities to engage young people.

It’s true – the charity sector tends to be a slow adopter for new digital tools. It’s also true that younger people increasingly expect organisations – commercial and charitable alike – to be present online and easy to communicate with.

I don’t think any of that is particularly ground-breaking. Charities are getting up to speed, albeit slowly, because they have to. The CAF report is just further evidence of that necessity.

Consider this: younger generations have always given less on average than older generations because they are generally less financially secure and have less disposable income to give.

Matthew Moorut

If someone likes your Facebook page, that’s the first step along the path to nurturing a long-term relationship with a new supporter

Matthew Moorut

With finite time and resources, it makes sense to target people who are most likely to donate (over 50s) in ways that are natural for them, which has tended to be offline in the past.

But it’s important that today’s 18-34s will become tomorrow’s most generous donor demographic. All the while, digital tech is becoming increasingly ingrained in every age group’s lives.

Put another way, if you understand how under-35s expect charities to behave, you set yourself in good stead for fundraising with older generations too as they inevitably become more digitally engaged themselves.

A good case in point is social media. The CAF report says that just 8% of 18-34s donate to charities immediately upon liking their social media profile. And it’s true that younger generations are more inclined to be on social media. Does that mean you shouldn’t set up a Facebook or Twitter page? No!

If someone likes your Facebook page, that’s the first step along the path to nurturing a long-term relationship with a new supporter.

The charities that use social media best aren’t just the ones that get in the news, like the ALS with the #IceBucketChallenge; the best are the charities that use it as a tool to talk to supporters like human beings, giving updates on projects, info on the cause and support to beneficiaries where necessary. That’s becoming what people expect.

Money does make the world go round and I sense people thinking, “that’s all well and good, but…” - but there’s value in spreading word about your cause, which you can do through social media like nothing else.

Plus, if you want to crowdfund for a particular charitable project, you’ll find it a thousand times easier if you have an engaged online network that cares about your mission and are happy to donate and also spread the word.

And social media is just one facet of the modern world. Like the CAF report alludes to, there is an abundance of new digital tools and channels springing up these days. You really have to keep some regular interest or else you get left behind.

Tech is undoubtedly changing the world and the charity sector is not exempt. It will radically change our sector whether we want it to or not. The charities that survive will be the ones that understand the way their donors expect them to behave.

So if you don’t think your charity has personnel who ‘get’ the internet or understand younger people, then I’d suggest you start looking for volunteers. And if you need some help along the way, then our charity, Technology Trust, is always here to assist. Our blog is full of advice and guidance on tech to help charities and our IT donation programme gives cheap access to software that can help the most.

Matthew Moorut is head of marketing at the Technology Trust.