Our fundraising model is broken and digital can fix it
Digital is delivering for almost every industry – music, retail, media – and across government. Yet according to some fundraisers, not for charity fundraising. Why not? Probably because, unlike other sectors, charities have been resisting the change that the rise in our digital lifestyles has brought about.
Successful commerce has always had a culture of customer focus: with the rise of the Internet, businesses have transformed to avoid losing their customers to competitors and taking a massive hit to the bottom line.
The music and media industries learnt this lesson the hard way. For years they tried to fight the disruption caused by changes in their customers’ behaviour triggered by the arrival of the Internet as a major content distribution channel. They tried to stop applications like Napster, free distribution of content, mixing and matching and borrowing of music. All this was seen as an attack on the industry as it challenged their established business model.
It’s only in the past few years that the industry accepted that it needed to change and work within the ‘rules’ of the digital ecosystem where their customers and fans have been for years. Napster, with its free music, may have gone from the mainstream but we have new models for music buying, listening and sharing like iTunes, Spotify and now Apple radio.
In the case of the music industry, Napster was a disruptor. And there’s been one for each industry – easyJet and Ryanair for the airlines; TripAdvisor for travel; Airbnb for hotels; Uber for taxis; Facebook and Google for advertising and content; and Buzzfeed, Vice and Upworthy for news and media industries.
Who are the disruptors for charities? 38 degrees, Avaaz and Change.org shook up charity campaigning. The trendy brand marketing of charity:water and the Kiva platform with its direct link between donors and beneficiaries both had the potential to disrupt charity fundraising but didn’t. User generated viral initiatives like #icebucketchallenge made us stand up and pay attention. But these are one-offs, as is to be expected with virals, and do not give the basis for the development of a sustainable model.
What are the basic principles of the mass-market disruptors?
- They provide flexibility and convenience for the end-user – we can buy, sell, work, read, support friends and innovative projects on our own terms in our own time (at home, at work, on the bus);
- They provide a good user experience thanks to testing and experimentation – platforms are mobile, easy to use and easy to understand as they are written and explained clearly;
- They provide vetting of community members and the services members provide, and they enforce the community rules which builds trust in the platform;
- Around these platforms there is a community of people linked together by the same need and/or passion, who police and evaluate products and services which in turn creates trust in the overarching brand.
Non-profits have a community of supporters who are passionate about our causes yet many charities are still scared of trusting them. We provide patchy user and brand experience – there aren’t that many charity websites or online donation forms out there which are easy to use. As much as we talk about supporter experience and journeys we develop websites which fulfil internal priorities and the wishes of those colleagues who shout the loudest. Most of us don’t really start with our supporters when we plan.
By learning from how the ‘disruptors’ engage the public we need to create a range of fundraising products that truly live in the digital ecosystem where the majority of our supporters are and will increasingly be in. Such a model will help us create a new generation of donors before the current charity fundraising model collapses. Because, make no mistake, collapse it will.
This blog was first published in full at Digital Leaders. Head over there if you’d like to share comments or thoughts on other aspects of what makes these “disruptors” work and what that means for charities.
Brani is a digital strategy consultant working in the charity sector for over 15 years.