The Future of Digital Marketing in the Charity Sector

Posted on 28/03/2020 by Team Hallam

The world needs charities and not-for-profits more than ever. Read this practical guide exploring how charities can be using digital marketing to raise awareness, build their volunteer base, and most importantly generate funds.

Charitable digital marketing campaigns play an essential role in fund raising, building the volunteer base, generating awareness and profile building.

But according to recent research by the Tech Trust, fewer than half of UK strategies have a digital strategy in place, with the main barrier being a lack of skills and training to implement it.

Every charity needs to the precious funds to deliver their mission.  Whether it is the largest charity in the UK, Cancer Research or a small local charities like The Nottingham Refugee Forum, charities need to to be using marketing techniques to spread the word of their cause, raise awareness, fundraising, or recruitment.

And using digital marketing is the most cost effective way to reach the largest possible audiences.

We all remember the #MannequinChallenge campaign, #ForTheGirl, and the  Ice Bucket challenge that demonstrated the fundraising and awareness raising power of digital communication for charities.

And yet, despite this clear movement forward in adopting digital marketing techniques, too many of the third sector is still missing out on some of the basic opportunities of digital. There is also a huge amount of scope for charities to excel online in the future.

Charity digital marketing quote

Here, we’ll explore how charities can perform better in digital marketing and practical examples of ways you can start improving your digital marketing right away.

Essential Resources

We highly recommend you take advantage of the dedicated resources available to you:

Charity Digital is your first port if you are looking for discounted software. Charity Digital’s mission is to help good causes achieve more with digital technology.

The NCVO has a useful overview to help you undertake a review of your use of digital across your organisation, including a Digital Maturity Matrix.

SmartInsights publishes a range of free guides for charities although quite a bit of the most useful stuff needs to be paid for via a membership.


Charities get free marketing support from Google

If you are a not for profit organisation, Google offer a whole suite of options which are free.

This includes Google Ad Grants which can get you up to US$10,000 per month to spend on Google Ads to help spread awareness of your company, cause and campaigns: a tremendous tool in terms of raising your brand awareness and getting donations through. This amounts to a daily budget of US$329. I know currency fluctates, but suffice to say it is a lot of advertising money!

We have written a guide which outlines key policies for Google Ad Grants that you need to know.

Google will offer you support for your account and to get you started here’s one of our own guides on how to set up an AdWords campaign.

We have also written a guide specifically to help you manage your Google Ads :  5 ways to keep your Google Ad Grants account in shape

Google also makes available a non-for-profit licensing for Google suite also includes the complete suite of tools like Google Drive, Docs, Calendar, Sheets, Analytics, Places, etc. that are there to make your life easier

And Google also has YouTube Nonprofit Program

Charitable support from other major digital marketing brands

It doesn’t end there.  A huge range of companies provide support for charities. Our main advice is to always ask if there is a free or discounted version available, even if it isn’t published on the website. T

Here is a good list of discounted tools here

And here are a few examples we wanted to feature:

In addition to it’s free version, if you have 2 or fewer channels to manage, Hootsuite has a discount programme of up to 50% off it’s unlimited version.

If you are managing your email marketing via Mailchimp then be sure to take advantage of their discounted subscription rates for charities.

Canva is an easy to use tool for making social media graphics and other visual marketing materials.  Canva offers its premium version free to registered nonprofits.

Microsoft also offer a range of products for free for NGOs  including licensing for Office 365 and access the their resource library for not for profits.

Google has the YouTube NonProfit programm

Charities don’t tend to have big budgets to spend on marketing, so make the most of the free tools available to you – once these are set up and running for you, you can have the time to think of what you want to use to drive your marketing efforts forward, where you need help the most and if you have some budget to spend on your marketing, where you can get some help from an agency.

How to get started with a charitable digital marketing campaign

Of course, budgets always come into play. Whilst careful management of funds is essential for all charities, it is even more important for smaller charities to invest, and we work hard to provide support and funds to our own Hallam Charity of the Year, which for this year is the Nottingham Refugee Forum. and previous year’s recipients Framework and the Nottingham Samaritans.

With resources so precious and so scarce, charities need to be weighing up how to best utilise their marketing budget.

The first step to making the most effective use of your spend might include:

  • Getting your stakeholders to engage with our marketing. You will get more credibility and better results if you can count on your internal and external stakeholders support
  • Building a solid and compelling brand message that is used consistently on your website, your social media, and all your communications
  • Keeping your end goal in mind. Is it fund raising? Is it awareness? Is it building your volunteer base?
  • Investing in the most appropriate digital marketing tools to help you meet your goals.
  • Measuring the success or your digital marketing campaigns, and be ready to to pivot if you’re not getting the right return on investment on your spend.

Digital Marketing for Charities: Websites

Your website is the online shop window of a charity. It is where the charity can showcase its values, highlight its cause and encourage people to donate.

Team Hallam has launched a number of new websites for charities, and it is worth exploring the functionality, design, and user experience on these sites to look for examples of best practice. In this post we will use the example of Framework Housing Association

But despite the importance of websites, many charities are missing out because they simply fail to address the basics. Here are our tips for charity websites:

Use the best charity web platform: WordPress

For a charity, it is absolutely essential for the website to be built on a user friendly, easily modifiable platform. For this, I’d 100% suggest using WordPress.

  • it’s free. You’ll only need to pay for your hosting plan.
  • It’s super easy to use, with a wealth of information for beginners
  • it’s open source. You’ll never have to move to another web design software.
  • there is a huge community of developers, meaning you can work with a range of web designer and individual who volunteer their time
  • it’s secure. WordPress powers more than 35% of all the websites on the internet.
  • it has a huge range of plugins, for donations, crowdfunding  and more. Take a look at this list.

 it’s easy to add content, has hundreds of online guides that you consult if need be and offer a huge amount of capabilities that will enable you to do what you want with the site.

This is much better this than a discount, bespoke CMS made by a friend that looks terrible, is almost impossible to add content to and, more importantly, that isn’t search engine friendly – stick to the basics and it’ll work.

Calls to Action

The first step any charity should be taking is to get the website right. This means ensuring that the website is easy to use, accessible and that it has strong calls to action – making it clear what is the most desired response from your visitors.

For most charities, it will be a combination of raising awareness and fundraising.

And most importantly, making it clear your mission, purpose, and values.

Charity: call to action

In this example, it’s immediately clear what the charity does thanks to the large headline and other home page messaging. This allows website visitors to quickly understand what the purpose of the charity is.

There are a number of calls to action on the website.  An invitation to Explore our services.  A more subtle Make a donation next to it. And bolder, in orange, Donate button at the top right which appears consistently across the  site.

Website Design: Best practice

Psychologically, we’re drawn to human faces and, as a very human topic, charities should be making better use of the faces of people within their website designs – beware though: actual people rather than stock photography.

Take this example from Unicef:

unicef homepage example for digital marketing in third sector post

The use of the forward facing girl is incredibly important in communicating the message of the charity – this homepage is actually a video that shows multiple children and the help they receive from Unicef. It also uses a convention of web design which taps into the psychological predisposition of the human eye to gravitate toward faces. In this way, Unicef is doing a great job of drawing people in, thus making their message even more powerful.

Charities  investing in digital marketing for the future should be reviewing their website design and making use of strong calls to action and the power of faces. They should also make their job easier by choosing easy to use, easily modifiable content management systems to build their sites on from inception: this will only help with marketing efforts in future, as well as making it easy for customers to navigate.

Charities using Social Media

Social media marketing is an important element of any business’ digital marketing strategy. It provides a huge opportunity for charities in particular to spread their message and engage with potential fundraisers and benefactors.

The Guardian has written a great overview of successful social media campaigns for charities

One notable example comes from the #FirstFiver campaign in September 2016, when the new £5 note came out in the UK. A corporate fundraising consultant named John Thompson donated his first “new” five pound note to charity. He thought that others may be willing to do the same and so created a Twitter Poll to ask others if they’d like to do so: hence the birth of #FirstFiver. May people jumped on the worthy bandwagon, thousands of people donated to charities – incredibly, the momentum is still going due to the announcement of the new ten pound note – #FirstTenner is now born, almost a year later!

Another charity making social media work for them is the NSPCC. With over 352,415  fans on Facebook, the NSPCC boosted its donations and continues to build its profile through its Page. And what makes it so successful? The Page is kept up-to-date, content is posted regularly and the charity interacts with its audience.

Charities looking to grow their digital presence in the future will be innovative in their use of social media and make use of the many channels available, such as:

  • Twitter for sharing behind the scenes stories, sharing your success stories, and engaging key influencers
  • Facebook for fundraising, mobilising your volunteer force, and communicating with our community.   See Facebook’s guide for not for profits.
  • LinkedIn to recruit talented team members, target specific donors and focus on corporate sponsorship. See LinkedIn’s guide for not for profits.
  • Instagram to tell stories, highlight your current activity, and reach a younger demographic.  See econsultancys’s guide to using Instagram for charities.
  • WhatsApp to build a community of your volunteers, to stay closer to your supporters. 
  • Snapchat for personalised messages to your supporters or to show them what you’ve achieved with their donations

There are so many social channels out there: do not try and use them all, stick to the ones that play to your strengths and speak most to your audience. Social media takes a lot of time to manage, don’t spread yourselves too thin across too many channels.

SEO for Charities

SEO (search engine optimisation), as mentioned earlier in this report, is the process through which companies can improve their website’s visibility in the Google search results.

For charities, it’s a particularly important digital marketing discipline because it enables them to build brand and cause awareness.

Whilst big name charities can invest in TV advertising and so on to spread their message, charities across the UK should all be investing in SEO to build their visibility in search for terms related to their brand and also relevant to their cause.

For example, if you search on Google for ‘cancer charity’, you’ll find Cancer Research UK very easily. Search ‘children’s charity’, and the NSPCC is right there.

Does your charity’s website rank highly for terms relevant to what it does?

Beyond this, charities need to be thinking more laterally too. For example, here at Hallam, we like to participate in fundraising events and recently raised money for our charity of the year.  In fact, in every company I’ve worked at, we’ve had a chosen charity for the year – and we search for new charities to support via Google search.

So, I searched ‘nottinghamshire charities’ and, even though I know then to be just down the road from us, Headway didn’t show up in the list. Nor did the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Air Ambulance.

These charities would benefit from reviewing their SEO strategy to ensure they are optimising their websites for their location, perhaps building pages on their site about ‘corporate charity fundraising in Nottingham’ to attract more businesses to support them.

Think about other ways people might look for your charity. Did you know, there are nearly 1,600 searches every month in the UK for ‘charity fundraising ideas’? 210 for ‘charity days’? It is using SEO that charities can ensure their websites appear for these search terms – thus helping them to build brand and cause awareness to people who might not already know their name.

charity keyword volumes

The future of digital marketing for charities will see savvy charities taking advantage of the opportunities of SEO by:

  • Reviewing their keyword strategies
  • Focusing on cause and benefits as well as brand awareness
  • Investing time in blogs, videos and infographics
  • Making sure that each branch – cause – “service” has it’s own dedicated page that can be optimised, rather than gathering all content on the homepage like so many charities do.

To help you get started, here is a beginner’s guide to on page SEO.


Building Cause Awareness

With so many charities (there are 183,230 charities registered in the UK today according to the Charity Commission), it can be difficult for charity supporters to find the charity that’s right for them. Everyone wants to support charities but it’s impossible to support all 180,000 – so each charity needs to let people know exactly what their cause is and how support can help them.

Be sure to read this article about raising awareness of your charity, and building trust.

Digital marketing can enable charities to highlight their cause – even if you don’t have the bigger budgets that the likes of Macmillan, who advertise on TV etc., do. Search engine optimisation, as an example, is a really strong place to associate your charity with its cause, by ensuring your charity appears when people search for relevant terms like ‘how can I help people with disabilities in my area’.

Reaching a National or International Audience

Whilst many businesses we meet seek to target specific geographic areas, charities need to reach a far wider audience and causes are often not limited by location. SEO helps your charity to be found online, whilst social media marketing enables charities to stay in touch and engage with their supporters and fundraisers across the country and even the globe.


The Importance of Mobile Marketing for Charities

The use of mobile technology

It starts with a mobile friendly website. Is your site suitable for mobile users? Here is a good starting point for you.

The possibilities of mobile marketing for charities are extensive. Text-to-donate services like  Donr donations are an easy to use, low cost route to support your fundraising efforts via mobile. Savvy charities will capitalise on the existing opportunities of mobile marketing and use their creativity to reach audiences in new ways on mobile devices.

The future of digital marketing for charities will rely very heavily on mobile marketing because it is a format which allows charities to engage with their audiences at exactly the right moment. See a fundraising event taking place in your local town? Donate now on your mobile phone. Just donated? Tweet us now from your mobile phone to let us know. Taken a ‘selfie’ with one of our fundraisers? Put it on Instagram and we’ll share it with our followers too.


Mobile Apps for Charities

Mobile apps are another great way for charities to engage with their audiences and we’ve already seen a number of charities doing a fantastic job of using mobile technologies.

Here are some useful case studies of charities using contactless payment

The Breakthrough Breast Cancer iBreastCheck app received widespread acclaim. The app helped women self-check for the early signs of breast cancer, providing a useful tool, while highlighting a key health issue.

The British Red Cross has an app for first aiders, which shows how to deliver CPR and how to care for people who need first aid. It puts power into the hands of the mobile phone user, reinforcing the important messages of the charity:

british red cross app

ShareTheMeal is another fantastic example of a mobile app from a charity:

share the meal charity app example

The use of mobile apps for charities will continue to grow, and charities that want to succeed online will be investing in mobile.

A Wise Investment for Budget Conscious Charities

Charities often work with very restricted budgets and it’s important that every penny spent helps the charity to spread the word of their cause and to ultimately achieve their goals, be it awareness, fundraising or recruitment.

Digital marketing is the most cost effective way to reach the largest audience possible. When done well, digital techniques such as search engine optimisation (SEO), paid search advertising (PPC) and social media can enable charities to speak to huge numbers of people very quickly.

Digital is also an arena in which brand advocacy really comes into its own. Consider your charities loyal supporters; no doubt they’d relish an opportunity to help you to further build cause awareness and if you check, they’re probably doing it already through social media posts and the things they share online. By investing in digital marketing, charities can better equip their supporters to be really valuable brand advocates too.

If you need help with your Search Engine Optimisation don't hesitate to contact us.

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