A digital strategy is rarely the first thing an entrepreneur thinks about when starting a business. But in the case of charities and social enterprises, a solid online presence could make all the difference to your survival on the global playing field.
Remember the ALS ice bucket challenge? This viral sensation won the Special Achievement award at this year’s Webbys for capturing the world’s imagination and raising over $110 million for a once little known condition.
Perhaps you’re thinking that your organisation doesn’t need this platform right now. Maybe you’ll think about it when you are up and running, when there is a brand to shout about and money to cover such luxuries as online strategy? But the truth is that for social enterprises, the engagement with your customers, stakeholders and partners makes all the difference and how you do that online is key.
So let me inspire you to get out there on the information super highway and look at how some non-profit organisations achieved their success online.
Help Is Out There
I'm passionate about technology and innovation and its potential for social good. However, charities will often ignore the resources out there due to a lack of awareness or an aversion to risk. Be bold and realise the opportunities on offer. Open source software providesproducts aimed specifically at the not for profit sector and it’s free to boot. Software like CiviCRM and SugarCRM, for example, provide excellent database systems for fundraising and custom relationship management. Whatever requirements you need are likely to be found via open source directories such as SourceForge and Openhub.
The Technology Trust is another resource providing low cost technology product licensing and software to the UK charity sector. These are donated by some of the leading software and hardware vendors such as Microsoft, Adobe, Cisco and Symantec. The Trust offers security systems and platforms for gift aid processing, email marketing and online/offline card payments. The list of other providers goes on, but you could try Google for Non Profits to discover free versions of Google apps and premium branding on YouTube channels.
Check out TSO web hosting which is free for charities and Believe.In which provides online products to develop fundraising, campaigning and event management.
Getting Things Done Isn’t the Same As Getting Things Right
Use your time and resources wisely while setting up your digital foundation. Bring the right people on board with you, anticipate risks, focus on your product and you too could reap the rewards. Save Elephants took home a prestigious Webby gong this year. An online home-base for elephant lovers to help them engage their social circles, this organisation worked in tandem with their corporate partner Martin Guitar. He brought people to the fold by leveraging their brand reach to drive traffic to their microsite and grow their social following.
Think Outside The Box
How does your social enterprise stay afloat in an online sea full of similar organisations?
Creative thinking is key if you want your brand to stand out. Take the example of another Webby winner, I had cancer.com which had a mission to connect “real people with other real people”. This company harnessed the power of internet networking to not only promote cancer awareness but to create an online community of cancer sufferers who could share their experiences together.
Feedback is essential for a happy client database, so listen to your customers. Take time to think from your users’ point of view. How will they find you? What information would they rightly expect to see on your website and is there a way to offer them something they can learn from, enjoy, share, experience online as they start to engage with your service?
Want to experiment with how your customers engage with your product or brand? Try unbounce.com which allows you to create as many landing pages as you want, thus enabling you to try out ideas for branding, pricing, service delivery and feedback gathering.
If you get the chance to gather feedback, take it – and listen. It’s easy to get locked into the day to day running of the social enterprise and all that entails, occasionally forgetting to ask proactively if it’s really delivering what your stakeholders’ need – at every step of the way.
Believe In Yourself
I am a firm believer that charities can learn, adapt and be innovative in this ever-changing digital landscape, and your journey will be all the easier if your organisation believes in itself and what it has to offer. The internet can connect any business or social enterprise with a world of support. So get out there. The very best of luck in laying your digital foundations and in the words of Save Elephants “expect obstacles, but if you love it, if it makes your heart swell, you’ll connect with people and you’ll always be proud of what you’ve made”.
By Brian Moran, director of digital strategy at Cause4.
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