Subscribers | Charities Management magazine | No. 116 Autumn 2017 | Page 5
The magazine for charity managers and trustees

Why more charities should be embracing social media

For decades, charities have invested in direct marketing to reach new and existing supporters. From cold calling, knocking on doors, street fundraisers to mail drops, it has been an effective method of fundraising. However, times are changing and consumers are becoming increasingly frustrated by this type of communication.

According to research carried out by the American Press Institute, 88% of millennials now get their news from Facebook. Meanwhile Brexit negotiators, such as the EU leader Michel Barnier, often express their views on Twitter first before they make the news headlines.

Implications for charities

Social media has become the ideal place for charities to share information about their organisation without donors or supporters feeling specifically targeted or solicited. And thanks to new, more affordable and accessible technology, charities have the opportunity to invest even more in their social media communications to help them save time, resource and money. But it is apparent that many charity trustees feel concerned as to whether social media can truly benefit their charity. This mindset can prevent them from giving it proper consideration or investment.

According to research in the Charity Digital Skills Report, more than 70% of charities rate their board’s digital skills as low or with room for improvement, and 80% of respondents want their leadership team to provide a clear vision of what digital could help them achieve. Trepidation shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid social media, as it is a huge part of people's everyday lives, and can help charities get their messages in front of the right people and even deliver services more efficiently and effectively. Social media needs to be embraced from the top down and trustees should not only get involved but also empower staff to make the right decisions.

As leaders, it is imperative to understand the opportunities that embracing social media can offer to a charity, regardless of size of cause area. With over two billion monthly users on Facebook alone, the reach that these platforms have cannot be ignored. The question has now moved from "can you afford to invest in social media?" to "can you afford not to?"

Quality not quantity

As a trustee, are you aware of what technology your charity is using and how much it is costing the organisation? I will bet that most trustees do not know the true cost. Legacy platforms and outdated CRM (customer relationship management) systems can cost huge amounts of money due to the number of licences needed, hosting costs as well as possible unexpected costs such as additional training for volunteers to use them. And if they are outdated, they are also ineffective. There are much cheaper and more cost-effective ways to build stronger relationships; social media is one of these solutions.

Social media offers an unparalleled way to communicate directly with supporters, journalists, MPs and many other stakeholders compared to other methods of communication. Being able to directly tweet a journalist about a campaign or in response to an article they have written saves time and is more effective than sending them an email. Over 80% of journalists say that they find their news stories on Twitter so building a relationship with them on this channel will increase opportunities for media coverage or being approached for an expert quote.

A tired public

Whilst methods such as cold calling, direct mail, street and door to door fundraising have been effective to a degree, we must consider the public’s increasing disregard for these methods of communication. After a summer of discontent in 2015, the Fundraising Regulator was set up to keep the sector in check and to offer the public greater control over how charities communicate with it.

As part of this, in July 2017, the Fundraising Preference Service (FPS) was launched - an online website which offers anyone the ability to stop emails, calls, texts and addressed mail from any charity in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This means that charities will need to continuously download reports for the FPS and update records accordingly.

These are not the only changes that are happening. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is coming into effect in May 2018. It’s complicated (I urge you to read up on it and ensure your charity is on the road to GDPR compliance) but in a nutshell, it also offers people the ability to choose how they want organisations to communicate with them.

Speaking to your supporters just got harder. But this is where social media can bridge that divide. Through social media hashtags and "social listening", which act like a search function, it’s easier to get your message in front of the right people. If your content is engaging and inspiring - not merely "broadcast" to the masses – it is possible to strengthen relationships with new and existing supporters alike.

After all, no one wants to be caught in a "broadcast" channel that merely promotes an agenda. These merely talk at people, rather than engage with them. Social media is about getting closer to supporters, through having meaningful conversations, which have value in engaging existing supporters and donors (thereby increasing their goodwill and propensity to give more in the future), as well as finding new ones.

Boosting your ROI

According to fundraising consultant Ken Burnett, it takes a charity an average of two years to recoup the money spent on acquiring a donor who gives £5 per month and costs them £160 if acquiring them through face-to-face methods. Is this money (and time) well spent? Well, if that donor continues to donate for the rest of their lifetime, then yes. But as we all know, this is unlikely, as many disruptive factors will come into play. Social media can help raise funds and boost return on investment considerably more than other methods.

Social media plays a big part in getting people to donate to causes, whether it’s by donating to a friend’s fundraising page that they shared in a Facebook post or whether it’s a tweet asking people to donate to a crowdfunding appeal, such as the recent Grenfell Tower disaster. Social media can help amplify causes because the key to winning hearts and minds is through storytelling and building a community.

Think of social media as a touch point. Once someone engages with a cause on social media, they are a warm contact. If they then go on to sign a petition, sign up to a newsletter or donate money, it is then up to charities to nurture that relationship and make it go the distance. The right technology can help automate processes and make user journeys frictionless.

Revolutionise your processes

Charities are doing the most important work in society yet are often restricted by inferior technology. Low or zero budgets means having to make do with inefficient CRM systems, or free technology which isn’t built for the sector and is therefore not fit for purpose.

Social media is the leveller where every charity, no matter its size, is on an even playing field. A clear strategy is needed in order to make the most of available resources, to produce quality content, engage with audiences and then analyse efforts. Once a strategy is in place, the appropriate tools can then be sourced to help with efficiency and effectiveness.

Be selective

For now, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat are the big players in the social media space but they won’t be appropriate for every charity - and, of course, there are new platforms emerging all the time. If time and resource are limited, make sure they’re spent wisely.

Before jumping on a platform, charities must spend time researching whether it will be worth the investment and if it’s sustainable. Focus efforts on one or two platforms; for most charities, this will be Facebook and Twitter as they are the largest. Spend time crafting messages and using appropriate images or video as they are proven to increase engagement and help content stand out. Delve into the analytics to see which posts perform the best and then create more of that kind of content.

Don’t forget to include clear calls to action so that people are taken on a logical journey. For example, if posting about a new fundraising campaign, the call to action should ask people to sign up and a link to the sign-up page on the website should be included.

Social media is not a magic wand. A clear, well thought out strategy needs to be in place for charities to make the most of the opportunities that social media offers. Trustees need to understand its potential and that investment may be needed in order to reap the rewards. After all, a more engaged supporter base can enable impact to happen.

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