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Charities: Making Digital Gains

By: NMK Created on: June 16th, 2005
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On 26 May new media and marketing staff from charities and other third sector organisations gathered to hear speakers from digital agencies explore their work for charities covering awareness, fundraising and campaigning. Read the event report...

This 26 May event brought new media and marketing staff from charities, trusts and other third sector organisations together with speakers from across digital agencies and charities. Raising awareness, fundraising and campaigning were explored, and the audience also shared their own experiences...

By Deirdre Molloy

[Register and post your own comments on this article below...]

Introduction - Mark Jones Editor, AlterNet

Mark explained how AlertNet was set up in the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide. The vision of the Reuters Foundation trustees was that the internet could help overcome poor responses to crisis. When the Tsunami happened information did flow much more quickly and freely but only after the event. The outstanding feature was the massive co-ordination of relief efforts. However, the response was still inadequate.

The real media phenomenon arising from the disaster was the bloggers coverage and the speed of information and news. Alertnet's site traffic went up twentyfold after the Tsunami, and Tsunami video and images dominated searches for information. Some charities got their online events & response set up very quickly. Oxfam, Christian Aid and Red Cross dominated online response systems. But, Mark wondered, is it possible to use digital techniques in isolation?

Less publicised, he pointed out, was Mdicin Sans Frontires who raised so much money that they had to put a sign up saying "no more please". They don't spend a lot online but what they do have is a highly effective public relations mechanism - they got more coverage about the health crisis than the World Health Organisation. They somehow also appeal to TV producers: something attracts TV to them and they use TV access and coverage to drive people to their websites. Hence they don't need to mount huge digital campaigns to attract people - what they do really well is get stories from the frontline.

An AlertNet/Columbia School of Journalism study into TV coverage found that many journalists go to charity websites to find out what is going on. On the other hand, many charities have inadequate PR and media contact information and don't track visitors or hits to their sites. Mdicin Sans Frontire's use of an online petition when one of their workers was kidnapped in Chechnya was very effective. They got 400,000 signatories. So sites can be more homespun, not necessarily high-tech, and still very successful. Another issue is that of fake and phoney sites pretending to collect funds for charities - and Mark pondered how we can ward against this.


Generating Awareness - Katie Williams, Agency Republic

Agency Republic do email marketing, keyword search and web design for third sector clients and Katie kicked off her presentation by answering some basic key questions. Why generate awareness? This should be key to any organisations digital strategy, she explained. Raising awareness is a way to engage with your target audience, which should lead to increased future response.

Why be online? Its where people are now, Katie stressed, 60% of UK households are online and a third of households have broadband. And its where people will look for you if they want to find out more. Its an expectation from your supporters. Online is also completely accountable if you have tracking and cookies its about knowing exactly what your digital marketing spend and tactics are doing for you.

In terms of online advertising, Katie said, the creative imperative has been answered. You can have streaming video and audio that demonstrates your work, engaging people emotionally as well as rationally. It also allows you to target your efforts, reaching a niche audience and speak to potential supporters when theyre most interested in your cause or services, even when they dont realise they are.

In Agency Republics work with the Samaritans, the background was to raise awareness of their online councelling service. Their creative strategy was built round an understanding of young males. In terms of the viral or buzz marketing, it was an online version of the members get mentors scheme, which is more likely to create a positive response. Buzz marketing is also cost-effective. But its difficult to brief and get right, as it often relies on humour, and that often wont fit with an organisations objectives. Its also hard to control and to stop other people using your brand.

Search marketing relies on people actively searching for you or your services, but it allows you to drive people to key or current parts of your site. Online political activism, ie. campaigns or causes with an issue that produces strength of opinion, can be both topical and mobilise support. It can empower your supporters and potential supporters, Katie added.

Agency Republics Social Republic division won the Make Poverty History account for the July event and have created a site where you can be in the event without actually physically being there, and leave messages of support and your details. In closing she said the key next steps for any charities looking to raise awareness and campaign online must be: to determine your objectives, think five years into the future and explore all your options.

Raising Awareness - Craig Hill, Digital Outlook & Martin Gill, Comic Relief

Martin Gill explained how Comic Relief was stepping outside its comfort zone by being involved in the digital side of Make Poverty History. Comic Relief work with different partners to create different elements of campaigns, eg. the viral marketing. Can digital stand on its own, he asked. No-one is not demanding other things, but rather, Martin continued, we should be asking how can you cut down on the costs of offline and integrate digital and offline.

Tracking is key, Martin explained. Comic Relief shape the focus of their TV campaign on the night by watching donor and supporter responses as they happen. They track the first couple of hours, then focus on what works, and chop out the rest. What seems to work best is really simple little bite-sized bits of information wrapped up well with glamour, ie. snazzy little factoids.

The challenge in terms of the audience is that Comic Relief want to talk to everybody. So they have a populist front-end online, and the meatier stuff for the committed activists, researchers, etc, to be found inside the website. Current Comic Relief campaign raised 9million. Its the knowing and tapping into the broader trends and directions of your communities that is key, reckoned Martin, so you shouldnt get too bogged down in the granular movements of people.

As examples of the variety of approaches that work, Martin flagged up The Hunger Site which has a very simple format, whereas the site for the American presidential elections focused on blogging. These campaigns were both successful while existing in the digital sphere only, he noted.

Craig Hill, MD of Digital Outlook agreed wholeheartedly that the Tsunami response was an incredible example of what new media can do for charities.

He felt this could be harnessed at a broader level by the digital industry, which had a unique opportunity to make a difference given it's potential impact, and it's relative youth and flexibility. In simple terms: to make the knowledge, resources and skills available to the charity sector, particularly those too small to support their own new media team. This initiative could encompass a number of elements: creating a searchable database of charity needs that could be matched with a talent pool supplied by the industry; charity personnel attending digital strategy forums where they could have brainstorming sessions with digital agencies; and creating a searchable database of key contacts in the New Media Industry that charities can contact.

He floated several other suggestions. If agencies have unsold inventory, they could share it out. And people in agencies can help more directly, using their skills to help set up online communities and forums on behalf of charities where people can share experiences. Craig believes that this initiative would be an amazing opportunity to liberate the talents of a lot of creative people.

Are you in a charity - do you like the sound of this? Do you work in an agency and have ideas or time to contribute? Share your ideas and feedback. Contact Craig via NMK on or email him direct on

How charities can use the internet to maximize impact - Heather Hopkin, Hitwise UK

Hitwise is an online competitive intelligence service that has partnerships with ISPs and collects data from their logs. Heather outlined key online trends affecting charitable organisations. Events drive traffic, she explained, and the Tsunami had a bigger impact than any other crisis or event in the past 18 months on market share of visits to charities websites.

Most interestingly, however, interest has not waned in other causes. The Asian Tsumani and Red Nose day created the big "spikes" in traffic and Nelson Mandela's speech midway between saw another surge in traffic to charity sites. But overall traffic and interest is up since then, with 160% growth from April 2004 to April 2005 to humanitarian sites.

In terms of top destinations, the volume of searches for 'Tsunami' rocketed, and they were mostly sending people to education sites. The Department of Earth and Space Sciences in Washington got the most visits and they have the most information about what a Tsunami is. The Pacific Tsunami Museum was another top destination. In terms of news media people went to BBC News and Google News.

Looking at Make Poverty History, when the campaign launched the importance of alliance partnerships was crucial. Theyre now less reliant on them, Heather explained, as they get more visits from search engines. Overall search ratings for Make Poverty History are going up, raised from building momentum through a series of events the launch of the wristbands, the G8 Summit, and the march in Edinburgh.


RSPCA campaigns - Sue Sareen, Lateral

Back in 2001, Lateral created their first online campaign for the RSPCA with an ad about broiler chickens, calling for people to act by phoning for a free-info pack or signing an online petition. Just over a hundred people phoned, as against the 3,000 plus who went online to sign the petition. The petition was presented as part of a small site that also featured a re-edited version of a commercial that had been banned from TV, and some links that encouraged supporters to opt-in for future campaign updates and to tell their friends about the site. From these simple beginnings, the RSPCA campaign database was born. All new learnings from online campaigns are added to this database, so that when a particular strategy is seen to be particularly effective, it can be adapted to fit into other campaigns.

Lateral have tested many approaches to encouraging people to get and stay involved in campaigns. For example, to get across to supermarkets that their customers care about animal welfare, they developed a downloadable complaint slip for supporters to print out and hand in to their supermarkets. Simply offering details about who and where to target has been very effective - in this case it was a list of the main supermarket head office addresses.

Traditional online advertising (banners, etc.) has played its part too - and again, the strategy is to optimise the most effective approaches such as keeping the message as simple as possible. Charities often have interesting and compelling messages which need to be clearly and simply delivered for maximum effect. Lateral also proved that rich-media can be surprisingly cost-effective - but it does require more creative and production time as well. Recently, they have also been working on 'catching the impulse campaigners' i.e. encouraging people to sign a petition directly in the banners, without the need to click and go to a site.

Su warned of "...being careful when buying email address lists, as people now spam-filter their email more aggressively than before, and the bought lists can be difficult to quality check. Also take care if you decide to produce 'virals'. They may be cheap, but they are quite hard to control and track once released, and given that the best tend to be really funny, dirty or just plain rude - how many of your clients will want their logo or cause associated with content like that?"

It is increasingly hard to get people to write actual letters these days, but MPs do respond to individually written messages, particularly from their own constituents. So Lateral developed an email / letter generator - a kind of letter-writing aide that creates relevant individual messages from a selection of pre-generated phrases, and outputs them as ready-made emails in the supporters own email package.

The results so far are very encouraging. Over 1000,000 people have signed online petitions, over 70,000 have opted in for email updates, and over 30,00 have e-mailed nearly 90,000 friends. In other, more concrete terms, a law limiting firework noise has been passed, free- range egg sales are at an all time high and still rising, new 'enriched battery cages' have been introduced Oh and in case anyone hadn't noticed, hunting has been banned!

Magaret Manning, The Reading Room - The Children' Trust website

To be added shortly

Streaming and Webcasting Case Studies - Sarah Platt, Groovy Gecko

Groovy Gecko is a specialist provider of streaming media services. They work with many organisations across a wide variety of sectors including charities such as Amnesty International, the NSPCC and the RNIB. The company has been in operation in the UK for five years and has therefore seen massive growth in the use of streaming technology by professional organisations.

To the question 'why use streaming video?' Sarah spoke first about the impact of video itself, in terms of getting across maximum information in a short period of time, involving the audience, and generating emotion. Video is also proven to have greater levels of retention and impact. The additional benefits of streaming are multiple, she continued. By streaming content you can reach a global audience, make websites richer and 'stickier' and therefore users stay longer. Because individual requests made to streaming servers are logged by Groovy Gecko's Statistics package, the audience's activity can be measured and tracked very easily. Also, as there is no downloading involved content delivery is far more secure.

A great example within the charity sector is the NSPCC's media archive, which they have built up over the last four years and now features all their TV and radio ads, as well as additional interviews and press material. The NSPCC did a live webcast for their 125th anniversary event from the Barbican. They streamed a particular segment of the event live, getting around 600 live views. The archive of the webcast continues to receive many requests from users all over the UK. London Gifted and Talented are another organisation using streaming media to show the kind of work they do with your people in the capital.

Groovy Gecko also offer a subtitling service which makes the content more accessible and also allows users to control the font size of the subtitles. The Disability Rights Commission did a live webcast with Groovy Gecko, which included British Sign Language interpretation and live subtitles. This was cutting edge but accessible. The archive is available:

They also produce online presentations and events for clients, with synchronised slides, an online Q&A facility, polling and speaker details. Sarah showed an example of a corporate version of this produced for BT with their partners Broadview.


Online fundraising - Tom Mansell-Playdell, now do sites for about 1,000 charities in the US and the UK. Their offering is well suited to raising funds: it has lower admin costs due to automation and provides higher visibility for charities of all sizes. The charities are their clients but often JustGivings principal learnings are driven by their end users.

Considering how the web has affected charities, Tom said that the internet has levelled the charity playing field. Smaller organisations can generate big charity presence by intelligent use of the web. The speed of e-commerce is another factor in the levelling process. Charities are starting to commit to forging long-term relationships with supporters online, by treating them like customers looking for best practice. Online you can learn what is important to donors and customers by communicating according to their interests and giving history. People want to be treated as valued customers, he emphasised, not cash cows. They want to be listened to, and to have their preferences respected.

Attitudes toward online giving are important: people tend to give to their friends, not necessarily to the cause but charities can reach new audiences through peer-to-peer fundraising. People give more online credit and debit cards arent real money, so people give more generously than offline. Fundraising pages in particular engender peer pressure people are more comfortable in asking fro sponsorship by email or on the web, its easy and quick to do. Many more give online who wouldnt normally give offline. This translates into more funds and higher than average gifts. People can leave comments, supporters appreciate the web-wide reach, and immediate response and spontaneity are facilitated.

Tom looked at the example of Harry Potters birthday he was deluged with presents, so three kids got together in a chatroom and then built a site that raised money (via JustGivings service) for an autism trust and the Harry Potter site linked to it so you could donate instead of giving more presents.

Charities raise more when they engage people, Tom explained. If its hard work supporting your charity, make it easy everywhere to donate! Give supporters what they want, in some cases even before they ask for it. When they demonstrate a preference for online, commit to prompt online responses and clearly communicate the message you have.

A good example of ad hoc fundraising he raised was The Global Rich List created by a single fundraiser. Given half a chance, supporters are incredibly creative and fundraiser imagination is a very powerful tool. Trendwise, random approaches are increasing. Fundraising has to be fun. Many activities are accessible or about lifestyle like instead of having a flash wedding, have a fundraising drive. His philosophy was to let the users draw the line if its really beyond the pale JustGiving can take down a site in minutes. An appealing for a witness site asked have you seen this man and raised 12,000 by showing pictures of someone growing a beard! Tits Out For MS is self-explanatory. Charity supporters want to be unleashed, not controlled, he concluded.

Oxfam Unwrapped - Neil Miller, DNA

Last Xmas I Gave You A Goat embodies how Oxfam Unwrapped answers the perennial question and concern where does my money go? and why do I give people these rubbish presents?. People arent actually that interested in what you give them, its more the thought that counts.

Neil outlined how donations are used as a solution to gift giving: Oxfam Unwrapped had 35 products in the CMS catalogue, simple basket functionality, used category not price grouping, and featured a hero product and category hero (eg. the goat). Going multi-channel and spreading the news was the other side of the campaign.

Calculating the success of the Xmas 2004 campaign, Neil highlighted the PR Oxfam got in mainstream media, garnering coverage on BBC Online, BBC Radio, The Guardian front page, and Channel 4 News. In terms of revenue raised, they reached 215% of their overall target, 253% of target including gift ads. New supporters gained for Oxfam panned out thus: 19:1, amounting to 1905% return on investment, and accounting for 45% of total income when merged with offline fundraising.

As to why it succeeded, Neil pinpointed the Oxfam name, the novelty factor (a latent demand), a topical product, and multi-channel proposition and promotion. The concept does not come without challenges for charities, he acknowledged. For business there is the need for transparency, questions of stock management and the last Xmas postal date.

Beyond Christmas and beyond fundraising, Neil viewed the challenge for digital and offline campaigning as one of modernizing the image of charities. With Oxfam Unwrapped that was achieved: the old Oxfam image is about past perception and the new image is the Oxfam reality.

Simone Enfer, E-Learning Foundation & Dan Maudhub of Frog Creation

Simone outlined the challenge facing the E-Learning Foundation: two million kids in Britain dont have computers at home at the end of the day, and hence they are disadvantaged or lacking in the IT skills that are so integral to todays education and workplaces.

The Foundations trustees are top educationalists and they dont have networks in the target audience the Foundation was seeking to build links and solicit donations from. Simone wanted to organise an event at the House Of Lords that wasnt just an event, just a tag to hang fundraising on, but to raise their profile and find new friends. They turned to Frog Creation.

Dan Maudhub outlined the steps and dimensions of the campaign process. Data acquisition was the first issue: the targeted data was sourced, integrated with the current database and then they hand-picked the data. Direct mail was used for personal invitations, as a summons device. A campaign management system was created using bespoke, web-based software and integrated with the database.

Call Centre Management was set up, managing the tele-marketing integration with new media elements. The tele-marketing team was a campaign-specific team working in close proximity to the agency and the client. The marketing tem spent time with the E-Learning Foundation to understand their vision.

Personalised email invitations were the sent out, linking to the online data and integrated response system. A microsite was designed to transmit the campaign message and campaign tracking was installed giving real-time progress monitoring. All contacts were sent a brochure by post. Guests attending were sent a personalised ticket pack including a brochure. 100 guests arrived at the House Of Lords but this was just the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

Simone outlined the results: they reached their target for the event, they got face-to-face meetings with the people who they were targeting, and it put the e-Learning Foundation in the limelight. They made influential friends and secured serious funds. 115 people accepted the invitation, with 100 turning up, and 40 follow-up meetings were arranged with the likes of Vodaphone, Capita and others, resulting in good donations. Using new media got them through doors, allowing them to make friends with people they are still talking to, and raised their profile immensely.


The discussion ranged over technologies, networks, internal resources and the challenge of getting buyin for digital media at senior level in charities. The low-level deployment of text-messaging was raised, and a delegate wondered, if SMS works across the world, why arent charities using it more widely?

Response to Craig Hills suggested initiative (creating an agency skills-pool, charity-needs database and digital strategy forums for smaller charities and social enterprises) was positive, and generated a wider discussion about scant management support for digital and the lack of understanding at senior level of the benefits of interactive fundraising and campaigning.

A delegate from The Media Trust explained that they match individuals in the media to Charities, while someone else flagged up the Change Up government think tank initiative - "A Capacity Building and Infrastructure Framework for the Voluntary and Community Sector".

Sinead Hughes, Head Of Interactive TV for the Community Channel, the only UK-wide not-for-profit community TV channel explained that they launched the UK's first 24-hour interactive donation service, funded by the Home Office, in September 2004.

A Charities Aid Foundation representative said that despite all the good news its not just a lack of buy-in but a general lack of strategizing on the part of many charities that is holding things back. Allied to this is insufficient recognition that fundraising through any medium must be accountable.

In regard to the Justgiving model of unleashing the power of supporter activity, NMK wondered if more charities would engage agencies, and use the online environment, to provide facilitation of creativity for and with supporters online. This would mean adopting a changed model, through real engagement, that departs from just broadcasting a message or campaign. Several delegates responded that they were mostly very far away from that position, given that the basic acceptance of interactive medias power and cost-effectiveness still hadnt been achieved internally in their charitable organisation.

About the Speakers:

Chair: Mark Jones - Editor, Reuters Alertnet
Mark Jones has been Editor of Reuters AlertNet for the past three years. Previously he was content director for an Internet start-up firm specialising in investment advice. His former roles include Global Editor for Reuters Television and he has worked as a reporter, producer and presenter for the BBC.

Margaret Manning - CEO, Reading Room
In 1996 Margaret jointly founded Reading Room, now one of the UK's top five independent award winning digital agencies. Margaret is also lead project director for many of Reading Room's larger project for clinets such as The Disability Rights Commission, British Library, The Law Society and The Energy Saving Trust. Prior to joining Reading Room Limited she was a senior manager at 3i plc involved in business process re-engineering.

Su Sareen - Director of Lateral
Prior to joining Lateral in 2000, Su was Head of Interactive and European Creative Director at Leo Burnett. Originally an Art Director, she's been a senior creative in agencies such as Ogilvy's, FCB, McCann Ericksonn and Grey, winning many prestigious awards. She has also spent time as a commercials director, and as a documentary maker at the BBC. At Lateral, alongside the Levi's Europe account, Su has enjoyed working with charities like Action Aid, IFAW Battersea Dogs Home, the Foyer Federation and has been running the RSPCA account for 4 years.

Craig Hill - MD, Digital Outlook
Craig established Foresight New Media as one of the pioneering UK New media agencies in 1995, and over 8 years developed into a leading innovator in the entertainment, leisure and charity sectors. Throughout that time he worked with Macmillan Cancer Trust, Whizz-Kidz and Comic Relief . Craig is now Managing Director for Digital Outlook, and continues working with Comic Relief.

Martin Gill - Head of New Media, Comic Relief
Profile to follow soon. Details will be added shortly.

Heather Hopkins - Senior Research Analyst, Hitwise UK
Through analysis of Hitwise data and marketplace trends, Heather provides Hitwise clients with insights to implement successful online customer acquisition strategies. Heather brings 8 years of market research experience to Hitwise. Prior to joining Hitwise, Heather lead a business division at market research firm Dalbar, where she worked closely with financial services institutions.

Sarah Platt - Sales and Marketing Director, Groovy Gecko
Sarah has been with Groovy Gecko since the year 2000 and is a now a respected advisor on streaming media technology and projects. She manages key client accounts and strategic partnerships across a wide variety of business sectors and has advised not-for-profit organisations such as the NSPCC, Amnesty International, the RNIB and the Disability Rights Commission.

Katie Williams - Account Director, Agency Republic
Katie Williams has 8 years experience working both for and alongside voluntary organisations including Oxfam, CRUK, NSPCC, MS Society, NCH, Samaritans, Alcohol Concern, Unicef, Asthma UK and Friends of the Earth.

Tom Mansel-Pleydell - Corporate Development,
Tom joined Justgiving from European web agencies Pixelpark AG and Syzygy Ltd, where he worked on client web strategy, site design and online marketing projects across several market sectors. Prior to that, he spent two years in New York setting up the U.S. office of a UK-based financial research delivery company.

Neil Miller - Joint Managing Director, DNA
Neil co-founded DNA in 1996. Recent and current work includes a large scale project for Standard Life, the re-launch of and ongoing management of the Cheltenham & Gloucester account. On the charity side, Neil managed the award-winning Oxfam Unwrapped campaign. Charity sector work began with World Vision in 2002 and includes the Donate in memory campaign for Cancer Research UK. The integrated British Heart Foundation Sticky Cigarette campaign managed by Neil proved so successful it's been made a best practice case study for Cranfield School of Managements Executive MBA programme 20052006.

Dan Maudhub - Head of Marketing, Frog Creation
Dan is Head of Marketing at Frog Creation, a new media agency established in 1998 with a vision to allow organisations to make the most of the internet for communication and process management by combining new technologies with creative ideas. Dan now leads a team that creates award-winning campaigns for clients in the non-for-profit, public and private sectors in the UK and Europe.

Simone Enefer - Fundraising Director, e-Learning Foundation
Simone joined the e-Learning Foundation as Fundraising Director in October 2002. A member of the Institute of Fundraising, Simones thirteen years experience in the sector has been gained through Marie Curie Cancer Care where, following four years as Community Fundraising Manager for the charity, she worked as Regional Events Manager for London and the South East. Prior to that, she was Special Projects Fundraiser for Scope for three years. After Scope, she returned to education, graduating in Comparative American Studies from the University of Warwick in 1990. Subsequently, she spent time as a Volunteer Tutor teaching word processing to women returners, which helped her realise the importance of computer literacy in todays workplace.

See the original Event Page


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