If there is one thing that became crystal clear in the pandemic it is that digital is today and it cannot wait. In all sectors, in profit and in nonprofit, organizations were forced into changing the way they work, the products and services they offer, and their internal norms and cultures. And they did this all fast! Companies moved an estimated 40 times more quickly to remote work than they’d previously thought possible according to research by McKinsey; before COVID it was estimated to take a year to implement, but in COVID it took an average of 11 days for workable solutions.
For charities that were already lagging behind the business world in digital transformation, this acceleration makes the problem more urgent than ever, and a matter of survival.
In the 2021 edition of the Giving Report, we found that online giving was critical during COVID-19 shutdowns, growing 86% year-over-year. But the rosy picture painted by online giving is in the darker context of a significant dip in total giving. For the first time ever, ahead of government data that won’t be available for years, CanadaHelps has projected a 10% decrease in charitable giving in 2020, falling to 2016 levels.
That’s a scary number, though for those working in charities that have lived through this crisis it may come as no surprise. We also see that the giving gap, characterized by a shrinking pool of older donors making the bulk of gifts and a shrinking participation rate, continues as a very real threat. But the bright spot came from seeing the ways younger demographics gave to Cause Funds and engaged with social justice issues. We also continued to see the way Canadians of all demographics rallied around crisis relief, from the wildfires in Australia to COVID-19 response.
These trends can help charities develop new strategies for engaging younger people with their work, which will be critical for future sustainability. These are a few ways to tap into these shifts:
How do you speak about your “cause”? When we launched the COVID-19 Community Care Fund, we were deep in a crisis that extended far beyond just healthcare. The “cause” we promoted was the range of frontline services providing food, help for vulnerable people, counselling, and much more. Canadians rallied around their neighbours and communities and were generous in supporting the charities making change.
Take the time to think about how your charity and its work fit into topical conversations, and communicate the value of your work in supporting those causes. Ideally, you’ll use a donor management system to collect and organize data well, allowing you to tailor appeals to audiences based on interests — you’ll speak differently to established donors that know your organization well than you would to those in the early stages of engaging with a cause or your organization.
Be timely, respond quickly. The attention span of donors can be short, especially when the news cycle moves so quickly. To capture the urgency of a moment in time, you have to respond immediately. The hundreds of charities included in the COVID-19 Hospital and Healthcare, and the COVID-19 Community Care funds were able to articulate how they were responding to the pandemic crisis, and launched donor-facing campaigns rapidly. We were able to gather these campaigns and share them with donors in two Cause Funds, which came at a time when people desperately wanted to help but they didn’t know how. This agility and ability to pivot is a critical cultural component of a successful organization in the digital era, and the people who do this well will be most successful.
Make your ask clear, and make it easy for donors to respond in the moment. When someone reads about an injustice, or an issue they are passionate about, they are motivated to take action. The opportunity to turn the reader of your email, or viewer of a social media post into a donor is much more likely to lead to action if you make your request clear and as frictionless as possible. Think about a successful crowdfunding campaign you’ve seen and why it works. The story is compelling and concise, the benefit is clear, and the way to help is easy. This can be replicated, but with the benefit of supporting systemic work instead of individual needs.
Many in the sector are overwhelmed by the digital transformation imperative, and that’s fair. The expectations have changed rapidly, and there is a skills gap in the sector. But there is an opportunity. In this digital age of uncertainty and disruption, there is an urgency and pressure on the charitable sector to embrace digital transformation. We can choose to see it as an enabler of positive change.
Marina Glogovac is President & CEO of CanadaHelps, a leader in providing powerful fundraising and donation technology to charities and donors since 2000. Marina has been a technology and media executive for more than 25 years, including roles at Kobo, Lavalife Corp. and St. Joseph’s Media. www.canadahelps.org