SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
Eleanor Reynolds

Digital Marketing Consultant working on SEO, PPC and Content Marketing accounts

Digital marketing has changed the face of charity fundraising. Here is what you can get for free and an overview of the different branches of digital marketing that you can allocate time and funds to. These could benefit your cause and help to raise awareness and money for what matters to you.

Digital marketing in the charity sector has experienced a boom in the past few years, and will only continue to do so. charity digital marketing

Charities like the British Heart Foundation and the NSPCC have paved the way for better website experiences and mobile apps for charities, and the introduction of mobile based services such as Just Text Giving have enabled the third sector to capitalise on the opportunities digital marketing presents.

The #MannequinChallenge campaign, #ForTheGirl, and Ice Bucket challenge have further demonstrated the fundraising power of digital communication for charities.

Yet despite this apparent move forward in digital marketing, 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.

Here, we’ll explore how charities can perform better in digital marketing and what the future might look like for this incredibly important sector.

Charities get free marketing support from huge brands.

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 £8,000 per month to spend on Google AdWords to help spread awareness of your company, cause and campaigns: a tremendous tool in terms of raising your brand awareness and getting donations through – if it’s free, you may as well use it. They’ll 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. This Google suite also includes a whole bunch of tools like Google Drive, Docs, Calendar, Sheets, Analytics, Places, etc. that are there to make your life easier – as well as other benefits on YouTube, specific to the third sector.

It doesn’t end there, a huge range of companies strive to help charities where they can such as social media management tool Sprout Social and email marketing tool MailChimp which both offer discounts on some of their plans for charities. Microsoft also offer a range of products for free for NGOs  if you fit their eligibility criteria.

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.

Why Charities Should Invest in Digital Marketing

Of course, budgets always come into play and smaller charities like Rainbows or Framework might not have the budgets that the likes of Cancer Research or the RSPCA might, but nonetheless, charities of all sizes should be doing more to raise awareness of their cause through digital marketing.

There have been some great examples of charities using digital over the years. From giving a voice to the unheard to helping people help each other, charities have proven the effectiveness of digital engagement.

Investing in digital marketing can make a huge difference to any business, charities perhaps even more so. Here’s why:

A Wise Investment for Budget Conscious Business

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.

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.

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.

Digital Marketing for Charities: Tips and Advice

Charity Websites

The 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.

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 a Decent Platform

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 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 – 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 – meaning it tells visitors what is wanted of them.

Take the website of the British Heart Foundation as an example:

british heart foundation homepage example for charity marketing post

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.

One of the most striking visual elements of the website is donation option in the middle of the page,, which lets visitors know exactly what is wanted of them, and also gives them multiple options on how to help. It makes donating a simple process, and clearly states below the donation amount the benefit the donation will have for people supported by the British Heart Foundation. The links at the bottom serve to show people where the money goes and why it’s important, providing information for viewers and making the charity accountable.

Compare this to the website of Nottingham based charity The Jericho Road Project:

Jericho road project homepage example for charity marketing post

In this example, the page is dominated by an embedded video – you have to read through to understand the nature and cause of this fantastic charity – they bring hope and restoration to those affected by the sex industry in Nottinghamshire and have helped 650 women in Nottinghamshire.

The charity would benefit from having more imagery, content and calls to action for either financial support or for volunteers.

Charities should be very clear on their call to action – likely to be ‘donate now’. The future of digital marketing in the charity sector will depend on charities getting their calls to action right.

Website Design: Tips and Tricks

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.

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 Rainbows. 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.

Charities on 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.

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 direct conversation
  • Google Plus Hangouts for face to face chats
  • LinkedIn advertising for corporate sponsorship
  • If you have great photo/video resources: Instagram
  • Facebook can build relationships
  • 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.

The Importance of Mobile Marketing for Charities

Mobile is no longer a developing technology. It’s huge and it’s here to stay – so an optimised mobile website is the least a charity should be looking at to keep their users engaged. I hope that I don’t have to ask whether your site is mobile responsive – it really should be.


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.

The possibilities of mobile marketing for charities are extensive. We’ve already seen the popularity of Just Text Giving and plethora of charities open to text donations. Savvy charities will capitalise on the existing opportunities of mobile marketing and use their creativity to reach audiences in new ways on mobile devices.

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.

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.

Digital Marketing for Charities

The charity sector has experienced a boom in digital in recent years. Big name charities are using digital technologies and techniques to raise brand awareness and to increase donations.

But there are still many opportunities available to charities, both large and small.

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