Give yourself time to develop
The development of technology and digital platforms play an important role as an enabler to reach out to, engage with and build relationships with givers. However, the degree of complexity required of these technical innovations varies widely - from simple communication tools and supporter engagement touch points to multi-channel gaming platforms.
Before jumping to a technical solution it is important to be clear on why you are using technology, what purpose it will be serving and how it will enable more giving. Through the Open Innovation Programme a number of large UK charities have been supported in helping them understand how open innovation and technology can be used to reach new audiences to increase giving of time, money, resources and assets.
Here are experiences from four charities using technology to enable giving at scale.
The National Trust volunteering team developed the Big Family Day Out, an innovative family volunteering proposition combining under-used employee volunteering days with family days out. As part of a pilot, they sought to design and build a web platform to act as a brokerage tool to enable companies and their employees to sign up and lend a hand at National Trust properties. The team found that introducing even a simple microsite within an organisation can take many weeks of persuasion with internal Digital and IT departments and external delivery partners.
There are many factors to consider when introducing new digital platforms; where the platform is hosted, security considerations and in-life maintenance being just a few. Once up and running, the website scored highly in terms of its ability to communicate the offer.
However, take up of the pilot was hampered by its inability to allow employers/employees to easily confirm and register their place, a key process that wasn’t factored into the build stage. If the Trust scales up the proposition nationally, the technology experience gained along the journey is going to be the enabler in managing relationships and family volunteering transactions.
Marie Curie Cancer Care
Giving behaviour is evolving and we’re seeing a shift from traditional models towards those that offer donors a "return" – whether through rewards, experiences or otherwise. In recognising this, Marie Curie Cancer Care set out to solve two giving challenges. Firstly, how to attract a new demographic of donor, who may not otherwise give to charity, by tapping into people’s innate competitive nature. Secondly, how to capitalise on the growing trend of using gaming in the not-for-profit sector cost-efficiently, while complying with legislation governing this type of fundraising.
Working with a wide range of open innovation delivery partners in agile mode, they created Tickety Boo, a loyalty based data-driven online gaming platform where supporters can play a wide choice of free and paid-for games, including bingo, raffles, lottery and instant win games.
Giving behaviour is evolving and we’re seeing a shift from traditional models towards those that offer donors a "return" – whether through rewards, experiences or otherwise
Once the team was clear on the why, what and how, they tested their assumptions with the technology experts as early as possible to assess feasibility within time, cost and quality constraints. Contrary to an initial assumption that they could build and own the technology, they ended up licensing from a gaming provider as this proved to be a significantly more cost effective solution. By being willing to let go of initial assumptions about how they would get there, the team was able to reach their destination more quickly and effectively.
For Marie Curie the technology component was the most complex and expensive part of their journey, yet the real innovation sits behind the scenes of the gaming portal in the form of data capture. This will allow the charity to manage an interactive and intelligent supporter system to not only increase giving through gaming, but to share these insights with other charities and organisations implementing a Marie Curie owned, white-labelled version of the platform.
Keep Britain Tidy
This environmental charity has an active supporter base estimated to contribute over a million hours a year towards its core work. However, the charity didn’t log, acknowledge or share this contribution. Nor did it give volunteers the opportunity to donate to the cause.
Using digital innovations from new, key partners, Keep Britain Tidy is making it easier to share time, skills, resources, money and environmental action at a national scale through the Love Where You Live sharing network. This online platform includes a digital mapping application, where supporters can upload images and stories, communicate with each other and inspire others. In return, through the development of a new Keep Britain Tidy reward currency, supporters earn goodwill credits that can be redeemed towards products and services offered by corporate partners.
For the technology to be successful in this transformation, it is vital that the organisation sitting behind it is also prepared and ready for this change and not just putting up a ‘collaborative front’.
The pilot platform is being built using agile development and is also being built at the heart of an organisational and digital transformation programme across the charity, which has amplified the complexity of introducing such an innovation. The platform will sit at the centre of a transformed organisation. Peers will be able to engage with each other and the impact of environmental action will be made more visible. For the technology to be successful in this transformation, it is vital that the organisation sitting behind it is also prepared and ready for this change and not just putting up a ‘collaborative front’.
Mencap’s income from schools fundraising has dropped significantly over the past seven years. In addition, their donor base is ageing: over 9 per cent of donors responding to their appeals are 45 or above. While digital innovations such as Just Giving have revolutionised the adult sponsorship market, children and schools still use paper-based sponsorship forms. The charity believes that schools are still a viable giving audience and as part of the Open Innovation Programme, Mencap created ‘Kids for Good’ – a fun, easy and safe way for children to raise sponsorship from friends and family online.
Bill Gates once said, “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” Working with The Giving Lab – an agency that supports charities to innovate – Mencap applied an evidence-based approach in working with pupils, parents, teachers and Mencap Young Ambassadors to uncover the enablers and barriers to giving in schools. What they discovered was that teachers are the key to achieve buy-in for charity fundraising within schools.
Not only that, but schools still used paper-based systems with 90 per cent of fundraising being cash based with cheques being sent to charities. This demonstrated there was no appetite or demand for a digital giving platform and on this occasion technology was not the solution. Instead, the open innovation process enabled the team to realise the impact Mencap Young Ambassadors can have in engaging with schools and the wider experience is changing the way Mencap approaches innovation from the outset.
‘Things to consider’ checklist
As we have seen from the experiences above, combining technology with open innovation can give organisations real rewards if designed and implemented well. These can be reaped at many stages of the innovation process. Using an agile development approach, as demonstrated by Keep Britain Tidy and Marie Curie in the building of minimum viable products, allows for fast and quantitative user testing. This approach lets you throw away bad features early on and improve on the good ones as you mature the solution.
The opposite is also true when turning to technology for the wrong reasons. To help you avoid the pitfalls, you could try following the checklist below as a starting point – but whatever you decide, remember to allow yourself time to develop and iterate as it is unlikely you’ll get to the right solution first time around:
1. Why are we doing this? Be clear on the strategic rationale for open innovation.
2. What is the problem we are looking to solve? Uncover the unmet needs. Ask this question several times. Challenge your answers.
3. Does it need a tech solution? Consider all possible ways to solve the problem, include no tech and low tech.
4. Who will use this? Apply a user-centred approach to design, build and test your innovation.
5. Who will help us build this? Partner with users for requirements, external experts for advice and delivery partners for implementation.
6. How will we know it will work? Use an evidence-based approach and build low-cost minimum viable products. Test with both ‘cold’ and known end-users regularly throughout the build process.
7. Have we considered using agile methodologies? Using simple, iterative processes can foster creativity and collaboration, while lowering costs and building usable products.
8. Where will the solution be hosted? Understand the process and infrastructure implications of hosting internally vs. external / cloud-based options.
9. Who will maintain this post-launch? Put plans and service level agreements in place for when things go wrong.
10. How can we scale this? Prepare a portfolio of strategies and business models to ensure your solution is replicable, scalable and can be sustainably financed in the long-term.