Though I’ve been in fundraising for well over a decade, I started working in my first digital role – Senior Digital Fundraising Manager at Anthony Nolan – in 2015. As the first person to hold this role I was able to play a key part in shaping and defining it. Here are six key lessons I took away.
1. Dare to be different
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of doing similar things “because they work” – and of course it’s sensible to a degree to do so. But in digital world it is so cheap and easy to test new things. At Anthony Nolan we tried a completely different style for our FB ads for events recruitment – simple little icons on a plain background instead of happy athletes waving at the camera – and they absolutely flew. Not because they were the best adverts ever, but they stood out in a crowded market, making people pay more attention. Our audience commented and shared with their networks, giving us lots of additional organic reach to add to what we were paying for.
2. Consult widely
I’m a huge fan of cross-team workshopping. One of my favourite meetings last year was a session I facilitated with members from across our fundraising, marketing and comms teams to come up with new ideas we could test with FB ads. We had a range of experience in the room but some of the best ideas and insight came from those with less prior involvement – they had no preconceptions and weren’t wedded to “how we usually do things”.
It can be really freeing to have totally fresh eyes looking at something, without personal bias.
3. Find your allies
“Digital” should be embedded in every aspect of what we do. So to ensure your org is making best use of digital channels. The structure should support and empower the digital team. However, not all charities are set up (yet) in a way that allows this. It’s therefore crucial to build relationships across relevant teams and work together to amplify what you can do. Securing buy-in of the importance of digital from a few key colleagues (e.g. policy team, marketing manager) will make your life hugely easier and create significant opportunities for collaboration and development. The more you know about what is going on elsewhere in the organisation, the better prepared you will be to get involved and create joined-up, powerful work.
4. Value expertise
You’re a digital expert and you know your stuff. And you expect people to respect that. But it’s unlikely that you’re equally expert in campaigning AND creating compelling fundraising asks AND writing press releases and all the other myriad things you might be communicating about. Identify who is best placed to feed into the work that you’re doing. And – please, if you take one thing away, make it this – have actual conversations about the differences in your views on how something should be done. The better you and your colleagues understand each others’ approach, the better the quality of the work you will ultimately deliver (and the fewer drafts everything will have to go through, too!). No-one wants their work returned with tracked changes.
5. Make your metrics matter
Everything we do in digital is so delightfully measurable. But it’s easy to lose focus on why you want to measure things. All of your work should have goals in mind: what are you trying to achieve with this update / email / social post? What metric matters? What is your target for that metric? Growing your followers on Facebook shouldn’t be a goal (sorry!). Creating and sharing content that a higher proportion of your audience will engage with – and take meaningful action from – will naturally grow your audience; your goal should relate to people taking the actions you are seeking to drive. A content plan isn’t a strategy unless you are building in objectives.
6. Spread the skills
On joining Anthony Nolan I was delighted to find out that the events team are all trained to build their own emails and webpages. Templates and sign-off procedures are in place to ensure consistency, but by empowering the wider team to take some control of their own digital output, the (small!) digital team have much greater capacity to deliver broader and more complex work. From teaching teams specific, relevant skills, to having fully-fledged “digital champions” across your different teams, there are many ways to approach this, but your goal should be to devolve some day-to-day responsibility and free up time to develop more strategic work.