Making Funds Count for Digital Success

7 February 2017 | By Cause4 staff

The Transform Foundation has just announced its 2017 Charity Website Grants Programme, giving £18,000 to charities to redevelop their websites. The programme was designed to “help charities achieve best practice with their digital presence in order to optimise the online experience for supporters, service users and other stakeholders.” The fund is open to smaller charities who are developing, or have already developed, digital strategies.

Assuming charities are well managed, receiving funding to support digital infrastructure or marketing is generally a great thing. However this makes the assumption that charities already understand ‘how’ to invest those funds effectively. Undoubtedly some will question whether this investment of valuable funds and resources is even valid at all.

The subject is not straightforward, as highlighted by David Ainsworth who argues “even if the evidence supports a rebrand, charities that follow that route risk the disapproval of their supporters, who might feel that paying a design agency is not a good use of charitable funds”. This is where the Transform Foundation comes in, offering charities the chance to invest in their digital brand without having to rely on any of their own funds. Ainsworth goes on to quote Beth Breeze, a University of Kent researcher, who says donors have “found it hard to distinguish between thousands of charities and valued organisations with strong identities”.1 But to compete you have to at least try, and try to do it right.

According to Brian Moran, Director of Digital Strategy at Cause4, “funds to invest in digital are great, but charities especially don’t have much resource internally so they often don’t have the expertise or know-how to develop their business requirements. Even those organisations that manage to do this still struggle with how to source and select the right fit in terms of digital partners, whether that be for a new website or brand”. So funds alone are not enough to setup a charity for digital success.

People often cannot determine for themselves what inspires them to support or donate to one charity over others. There are however ways to optimise effectiveness of engaging supporters online, such as A/B split testing during website development, or measuring visitor numbers before and after a rebrand. What is unequivocal is the importance of honest representation of the charity’s work, with Brian adding that “the key to charities particularly developing an effective online presence is being able to link it to an effective case for support and call to action”.

Charities starting from scratch can benefit from a digital strategy incorporating a solid case for support. Ideally this will include a plan for how to measure online and digital effectiveness , determine what works, pinpoint required expertise and support, and build a basis to inform future development. Larger, more experienced charities need to closely monitor and regularly adjust their strategy in accordance with online trends, making sure it will be of value in the long term.

The process of applying to the Transform Foundation fund seems comprehensive. In collaboration with partner charity Raising IT, the first application stage includes workshops to define website strategy and organisation needs, followed by creating the website, and finally help with understanding digital impact measurement.

This fund seems to be encouraging charities to think more strategically as they invest in their digital growth. It is crucial that charities see this digital growth as an opportunity to invest in necessary skills and training internally, rather than relying purely on external expertise.

The Transformation Fund should succeed in this respect, as it promotes training and sharing of skills and best practice. Charities should keep this in mind when looking to fund organisational growth or development. While results remain to be seen, the Transformation Fund appears promising. It is reassuring to think that after many mistakes and lessons within the charity sector, organisations might be getting it right.

1 http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/analysis-charity-rebrand-driver-growth-waste-funds/communications/article/1154741

What do you think about the Website Grants Programme Fund? Can it live up to its ambitious objectives? Comment below, or tweet us at @OfficialCause4 to let us know what you think!

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