Charity Sector Digital Trends in 2021

Across the charitable and fundraising sectors, most of 2020 presented something of a challenge. Many of the usual means of raising funds came under significant strain as events needed to be cancelled and, in some cases, regular charitable giving dropped off among people who faced worsening personal financial circumstances. Of course, charitable institutions that rely on people attending their premises or paying for certain services also came under mounting financial pressures as national lockdowns in many countries extended from weeks into months.

Just like areas of commerce, however, the charity sector was able to adjust to the changing social landscape that the public health responses to the pandemic brought about. Of course, the main adaptation that charities made was to become increasingly digitised. The growth of digital technologies in recent years has not been lost on many charities that use online marketing methods more than ever before. If anything, the pandemic did not bring about the uptake of digitisation methods in the sector. What it did, however, was to speed up the pace of such change.

As a result, digital trends among charities have gathered momentum with many of the leading lights in the sector sharing their best practices and ideas with others. Of course, not every trend on micro-niche will be suitable for every charity brand. That said, there have been some discernible tendencies among the most successful charities that are worth knowing about. After all, doing something digitally because it is a trend is one thing but if it produces the right sort of results, it is quite another. What have some charities been doing in the first quarter of 2021 that is likely to be reinvented and even directly copied as the year progresses? Read on to find out.

Voice-Enabled Digital Giving

Other than the uptake of virtual reality headsets in the home, one of the big digital technology trends of the last 18 months or so was the increased used of voice-enabled devices. These days, there are numerous assistants that will listen to your voice and perform a range of tasks according to pre-programmed settings or through artificial intelligence algorithms. The likes of Google Home Assistant and Amazon’s main alternative, Alexa, are now the norm in many households. However, they are not always good at operating apps, especially those offered by charities.

According to some industry estimates, in the region of 20 billion internet searches are now being done through a voice-enabled assistant or a smart device which is listening to its user rather than accepting typed-in input. By the end of the year, it is highly likely that at least half of all such searches will be made using voice-enabled tools of some kind. That is an astonishing leap forwards if you think about it for a moment. And yet, many charities have apps and web-based services that are not geared up to voice-enabled giving at all. Of the tens of thousands of apps that are available at the moment via Amazon’s Skills store, fewer than 70 are owned by charities. However, that number is changing, and changing fast, with more and more charitable institutions switching over to a more voice-friendly way of interacting and giving. More are likely to follow their lead as 2021 progresses.

A Shift Toward Digitally Aware Givers

Over the latter half of 2020 and the early part of 2021, there was a notable shift towards more digitally aware givers. In the main, this meant younger people were more targeted but as the world became more accustomed to an online form of social existence so more and more people began to fall into the demographic of a digitally aware consumer. After all, online sales of anything from groceries to cars shot up in 2020. So, digital marketing has definitely – necessarily, even – meant more focus on people who are spending a larger proportion of their time online.

What has this meant for fundraisers? Well, more activity through social media feeds, for one, but that is not all. Many charities have explored the other sorts of digital experiences that will engage an audience. The use of podcasting has been one, for example. Some charities have also turned to live streaming as an alternative to holding an in-person event. Yes, in some cases, such experiments have not always gone to plan but that has not stopped the most forward-thinking charities from trying them out to see what works and cutting out the elements that don’t. Digital auctions and prize draws have been held on videoconferencing apps and these sorts of events are likely to be much-used throughout the remainder 2021. Another shift in digitisation has come through crowdfunding, a specific fundraising objective that is achieved through online pledges alone. Not that many charities used crowdfunding sites a few years ago but more and more are doing so today!

Facebook’s Charitable Donation Tools

As one of the giants of the internet, Facebook offers the chance to achieve an incredible amount of audience reach. For charities seeking donations for particular schemes or events, it provides the chance for a degree of attention – and even virality – in a competitive marketplace. That said, Facebook’s charitable donation tools have received some negative press among charities that have used them thus far. It seems that the principal complaint surrounds data privacy and the inability to stay fully in control of all of the GDPR compliance procedures you might need to maintain around the identities and financial records of givers.

Having said that, Facebook is likely to be an on-trend platform for charities in 2021 thanks to its proprietary messenger system. Many mobile users of Facebook will already know that their messenger program runs separately from its main social media app. Given that Facebook has slated a raft of changes to its messenger system for 2021, it is going to be a tool worth investigating by charities because it is expected to allow charities direct access to the email addresses of givers, once permission to pass this information on is given by the user. This could lead to more charities giving Facebook a try this year as it will probably mean more direct marketing is possible after initial giving has been made.

Instagram Storytelling

If you have not yet investigated Instagram Stories, then you ought to because it is the big thing in social media right now. Of course, trends in social media usage are notoriously fickle but Instagram Stories looks set to stay for a while longer yet. One of the most important things to know about anyone who tries to leverage it is that it affords users with an incredible array of creative possibilities. This means that the service is just as likely to be used by up-and-coming brands, new musical acts and even online influencers as it is by established players in the charity sector.

Essentially, the pick up in the usage of Instagram storytelling is likely to be a big thing in 2021 because it affords such a cheap way to promote brand awareness. True, it is unlikely to be a big money-spinner. If any charity is successfully in monetise Instagram Stories, then it is probably going to be an unrepeatable moment in social media. However, charities that simply want to get their name out there and be associated with a certain kind of activity are likely to find that this is one of the best ways around to do so with hardly any marketing budget.

A Return to Email Marketing

A lot of marketing professionals in both the private sector and the third sector dropped off in their use of email marketing in recent years. There is probably a good reason for this. In recent times, emailing people involved so many permissions on the part of the person being marketed to – in terms of the regulatory environment – that it had become such a clunky method of communications as to be almost redundant. Unless you were emailing en masse to an audience that was already thoroughly engaged with the charity concerned, it had become such a blunt tool that it offered little by way of return.

However, given that there have been few other ways to reach people directly during periods of lockdown, many organisations have started to rethink their email marketing strategies. And it is not just charities. Lots of businesses now see that culling some of their old databases to remain GDPR compliant meant that they could market via email in a much more directed manner. Indeed, a more tightly honed list of email addresses will often provide a greater return on investment for the responses it brings about. Yes, some charities have gone a step further and returned to direct mail marketing. Of course, there are still the same data privacy issues if you choose to go down this route. However, emailing is virtual cost-free compared to the price of a stamp!

Staging More Virtual and Hybrid Events

The personalisation of charitable giving is an important aspect of it. Although digital methods of fundraising may, at times, seem a little more impersonal, virtual events – especially hybrid ones – can make them much more person-oriented. Staging a virtual event in real-time is something that keeps people entertained as much as anything else whether it is a fundraising quiz or game of bingo. Many charities have used these sorts of virtual events to keep in contact with their givers and volunteers during the social restrictions that have been in place. Yes, there is often a fundraising element that goes on with them but the overall trend has been one of building an online community where like-minded people have come together to socialise and achieve something as one. Now that event organisers have got the digital tools to stage such events online, they are going to be a part of the picture going forwards even when large-scale in-person events are allowed once more.

Of course, it is as restrictions ease where hybrid events will come into their own. Simply put, a hybrid event mixes in-person interactions with virtual ones. This is likely to be a big thing in 2021 for two main reasons. Firstly, the numbers of people who can attend the same event – especially if it needs to be staged indoors – at the same time is likely to be restricted for much of the rest of the year. If you want more people to take part, then at least some of them will need to be online. The second reason is that a hybrid event allows people from miles away – all over the world, even – to take part. Why restrict your fundraising and other events to people in your locality when you have a global audience to engage with?

The Uptake In Use of Artificial Intelligence

Finally, it is worth looking into the role of artificial intelligence (AI), these days. Although you might think that AI algorithms are there for big-tech companies and have little to offer the charity sector, you may well be wrong. After all, installing something like a chatbot on your charity’s website will often involve the use of AI systems. A chatbot can be a very cost-effective tool that answers many of the questions that might, otherwise, go unanswered. Unlike a customer service operative, it has no ongoing salary costs to consider and it works 24/7, simultaneously helping people in time zones all over the world.

Over the course of 2021, more and more charities are going to dip their toe in the water of AI technology. It is highly likely that they are going to be pleased by what they find. Not only can AI systems answer basic questions about the organisation they are ‘working for’ but they can answer in ever more sophisticated ways that will help to generate favourable outcomes. In many cases, of course, this might be a commitment to giving on a regular basis but there are so many others, too. However you can imagine an AI system working, it is likely to be able to and perform in a much more sophisticated way than you might initially expect. This type of digitisation is going to be a trend in 2021 and probably much longer into the future of charities than that!

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