Reports | Social media

The new rules of digital engagement: 2019 charity report

For the second year running, we asked more than 2000 people, representative of the UK population, how they interact with charities digitally. To learn from brand new insight and expert recommendations, check out the findings from this year.

By Matt Haworth · November 21, 2019

Download the report here.

Don’t miss a trick
Don’t leave older people out

Most young people are online – that’s no surprise to anyone. But let’s not leave anyone behind. Older people are not only very active online but they’re more active when engaging with charities – in many cases, more so than the average millennial.

Over-65s are 2x more likely to have set up a direct debit to a charity online than an 18-24 year old. 

The average age of the 44% of people who have donated to charity online is 49 years old.

Actions performed, on average, by older people were:

  • Donated to a fundraiser online
  • Donated via a charity representative in the street

Older people’s increased likelihood of supporting charity overcomes the lower numbers of older people online, making them bigger supporters of charity online overall.

Reason’s recommendation:

Our research found that older people aren’t being swayed by charity online marketing. Ensure you don’t fall into the trap of thinking that any online campaign messaging or advertising should be optimised for young people. Older people are online, active and are giving in greater numbers than Gen Z’ers or Millennials. Facebook is particularly effective when it comes to reaching this age group, so start there, as well as the usual search and email channels.

In terms of engaging younger people, our research shows that younger people are far more likely to take you up on a one-off volunteering opportunity or to engage in a fundraising event or challenge. Start off with this, and work your way up to a donation ask, rather than going straight in for the direct debit ask.

Case study: Turn2us

One organisation embracing people’s willingness to give their time online is Turn2us.

Turn2us is coordinating a network of volunteers of all ages across the country to act as digital buddies for people who are not claiming the benefits they’re entitled to, potentially due to stigma, a complex process, or lack of digital literacy. These volunteers have lived experience of applying for benefits themselves and can also support with mentoring and reducing isolation. As a result of this peer to peer support programme, Turn2us saw anxiety levels decrease by 56% amongst the applicants and life satisfaction scores increase by 126%.

Don’t think digital stops when it comes to getting those younger audiences to volunteer. Digital volunteering opportunities are a great way to engage a younger base and, combined with the right technology, can have an amazing impact. Turn2us uses this to great effect with their Connect service.

older man on phone
back of man's head taking photo with smartphone

Young people support charities. But not necessarily online, and not necessarily with their wallet

When young people are online, they’re more likely to donate as a result of seeing a cause shared online. 18-24s were 4x more likely to have been influenced by a cause shared online than 65+ year olds.

Actions performed, on average, by younger people were:

  • Holding a fundraising event
  • One-off volunteering

Demonstrating younger people take their support for charities offline; not just online. Perhaps as a result of typically having fewer resources, younger people are less likely to donate online – but this is offset by a greater willingness to ‘muck in’ in other ways.

Reason’s recommendation:

Many charities have considered ‘young’ and ‘digital audiences to basically be the same. Our research shows this isn’t true.

Think not only about the demographic of your audience but the action you want them to take. If it’s giving money then you’ll likely get more income from a smaller number of older donors than you will from reaching a large crowd of younger people on social media.

If you’re working on encouraging young supporters to join your base then consider giving them campaign or volunteering actions first, and growing a relationship from there, rather than jumping straight to the donation ask.

Online fundraising is reaching a crossover point

The number of people that donate online and offline are almost equal for the first time, and the trend is continuing. Donating online will soon be the most popular way to give, yet it accounts for a much smaller proportion of income than offline methods.

statistic infographic

Reason’s recommendation:

Soon more people will give online than offline in the UK. That means it’s crucial that fundraisers are supported to develop the digital skills they need to adapt to these new methods. At the same time, it’s clear that digital fundraising isn’t creating as much income as traditional, offline methods. Meeting this challenge will be key to protecting income. Consider if your successful offline fundraising products can be given an online equivalent. Sponsorship mechanics in particular work well online, with fundraisers able to use tools like Facebook Fundraiser to take sponsorship and collect donations form their friends. Also, consider how offline and online can support each other. Digital can be used to promote offline events, or act as a way to capture donations inspired by offline marketing or activity.

Case study: Dementia Revolution

Dementia Revolution is an ambitious movement jointly created by Alzheimer’s Research UK and Alzheimer’s Society for the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon. The fundraising campaign was Virgin Money’s most successful partnership yet, generating £4million in donations.

As an example of a fundraising campaign heavily focused online, Dementia Revolution is a great example of how to leverage communications to generate record-breaking funds, recruit volunteers and raise awareness.

Both charities needed to bring a brand to life online with a focus on powerful imagery and embedded video content.

A post-marathon survey showed one-third of UK adult were aware of the Dementia Revolution campaign; the greatest impacts reported by the public were ‘learning more about dementia’ (27%) and ‘being aware of how underfunded research is’ (22%).

Getting our services online

Only 5% of the internet users in the UK have accessed a charity’s service digitally, despite the vast majority accessing other, non-charity products and services online.

There has been a 0% increase in the number of people accessing charity services digitally in the last 12 months.

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Despite all the conferences, innovation funding, and strategic priorities around digital service delivery it seems the sector has not yet moved the needle even a single notch on from last year. People being supported by a charity online still stands at only 5%. This doesn’t undermine the incredible work some organisations are doing to reach into, often niche, communities or service user groups with digital services but does show that as far as the public at large is concerned, we’re not reaching any more people than before.

Case study: The Digital Health Assistant

In an unprecedented partnership, Reason Digital and four major UK health charities are coming together to harness the power of artificial intelligence (AI) for good – creating the UK’s first AI coaching tool of its kind to support people living with long term health conditions.

This tool is ALL about communication, specifically email communication, which we found through user research, co-design and testing was a better format for this information than a website, app or chatbot.

We have come together with Parkinson’s UKStroke AssociationMuscular Dystrophy UK, and MS Society to develop the project, which is set to transform the way medical advice and information is delivered to the half-a-million people in the UK experiencing or recovering from one of these conditions.

The Digital Health Assistant (DHA) will use machine learning to develop an understanding of the person being supported and continues to adapt to their needs over time based on interactions. This allows DHA to provide emailed content and support specific to the individual’s needs, providing a personalised, ongoing coaching service.

DHA shows how organisations can come together, pooling funds and expertise, to commission new digital services they may have not been able to invest in otherwise.

two people using an app

There’s still opportunity on Facebook and Twitter

Facebook and Twitter stand out in our research as the platforms most correlated with support for charity.

People who have interacted with a charity on Facebook or Twitter are…

  • 29% more likely to have donated online
  • 19% more likely to have donated offline
  • Interacting with a charity on Facebook and Twitter is 50% more likely among online donors.
  • 1 in 4 people have interacted with a charity via Facebook in the last year.
  • We saw a significant drop off in charity engagement after 34 years of age on all platforms except Facebook.

The new social media manager:

In the same way everything on your website used to be created, managed and published by a shadowy sounding figure called a “webmaster”, social media is also maturing. The increased emphasis on visual and live content means social media managers must either be out and about most of the time or change strategy entirely.

Social media managers are spending increasing amounts of time building relationships with people within the organisation and cause community that can provide content. These aren’t just influencers; these are people that can provide insight, access or angles on the cause. More a hub in a set of spokes, they have a role as a curator, selecting content from people who are out and about in the world. They have a role in mentioning the right people, responding to people, using the right hashtags.

Case Study: Turn up for Recovery

Turn up for Recovery is a new global campaign that aims to raise awareness of addiction and fundraise for abstinence-based recovery services through music. Turn up for Recovery asks everyday people to host local gigs or shows in their community to fundraise for one common cause – addiction. Social media is the main medium that Turn up for Recovery uses to raise awareness and recruit gig hosts.

phone screenshots

A global community

The movement has inspired gigs across the US and UK, raising thousands of pounds for the charity behind it.

Turn up for Recovery engages with a global community of music lovers – both listeners and creators – to spread their word far and wide. By highlighting supporters and their social media activity in their own feed, TUFR has endless content to engage followers, without actually creating much of their own.

Apathy and Passion are both increasing

"I'm not passionate about any causes"

the joint most popular choice when asking over 2000 people what cause they were most passionate about

This response was particularly pronounced among older age groups (15% of 65+ year olds chose this answer).

We have seen there are differences in passion for a cause depending on generations

  • Mental health support is 4x more popular between 18-24s than older people.
  • Climate change was the most important cause among 20% of 18-24s. This decreases by two-thirds among older age groups.
  • Passion matters. 22% of respondents stated that passion for a cause was their main reason for choosing a specific charity to donate to.

Reason’s Recommendation:

Clearly the growth in passion for mental health and climate change causes is great news for charities directly in those cause areas. However many more charities indirectly improve the mental health of their service users as they support them through some of the most difficult times in their lives. Similarly, some causes positively contribute to the environment or ecosystem. Highlighting these messages when reaching younger people could be the key to inspiring more of them to join in, especially if the first step to engaging with your organisation is a participatory one – like a campaigning ask or a volunteering action – and not just a donation ask initially.

How people are interacting with our charities is changing. But it’s not always in ways that we expect, or even ways that we’re influencing as a sector.

Assumptions about which age groups are active online, or worth targeting, are especially unintuitive. It’s worth checking assumptions such as which age groups are most likely to take the actions you want, or which digital platforms they’re more likely to engage with charities on before you plan a campaign.

A charity’s need to innovate or adapt services to deliver online is an area where the sector is stalled, despite wide acceptance that this is a key area most organisations need to tackle to be fit for the future. Every year that passes by, people are spending more time online and more people are becoming more comfortable and experienced in transacting with organisations digitally. This means that the potential impact and reach of charity digital services grows each year, too.

We will be exploring barriers, and potential solutions to this, in 2020.

Increasing the pace of development and adoption of digital services must be priority one for our sector if we are to avoid squandering the potential of technology to finally meet the scale of the need in our cause areas.

2019 also feels the year of the death of the dream of tech bringing about an unbridled utopia. A more measured view of tech, and especially social media, now prevails. More of us are now aware of the potential of social media to do harm. Be this spreading false or misleading information, harming the mental health of people, or providing access to the vulnerable by those that wish to abuse them.

These challenges and opportunities should not overface or dissuade us from embracing digital. They should be the signal that our sector is needed more than ever to bring balance, compassion, and assistance to people in the ways that they now communicate with each other and interact with the organisations that serve them. The digital world has never needed your charity more.