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Three Key Digital Concepts for Every Charity

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Digital transformation has been leading the way and is a growing area for many Scottish and UK charities - helping them to improve their processes, increase productivity and ultimately drive growth. However, the Skills Platform’s Charity Digital Report revealed recently that whilst some charities are already reaping the rewards of digital, many are still struggling.

In direct response to this, the Skills Platform and Zoe Amar Communications launched the Charity Digital Toolkit. This is a sequel to the successful Charity Social Media Toolkit and showcases best practice, expert insight and practical tips to directly help charities navigate through digital transformation.

The Charity Digital Toolkit is relevant for anyone working in the charity sector - from frontline staff through to experienced digital managers, senior leaders and trustees. Everyone has a role to play in successful digital transformation and can benefit from this free resource.

Charity Toolkit

Here are three key digital concepts for every charity to take from the toolkit:

1)  Digital Starts at the Top

However exciting your plans are for digital, chances are you won’t be able to execute them without the support and guidance of your leadership team. Louise Macdonald OBE from Young Scot thinks that leaders have a choice:

“If you are not online then you are invisible – so you need to ask yourself if that is okay. The good news is the financial barriers to getting online are now pretty low and online tools have made the process easier than ever."

One hesitation that leaders may have in embracing digital is a fear of the unknown or fear of failure. Simon Hopkins from Turn2Us believes that leaders need to set their fears aside “You just have to be brave and run the risk of getting a few things wrong – no one ever learned anything by keeping their head down”.

Louise Macdonald counsels that ‘You are in space where you can experiment and use technology to get closer to the people that matter to you than ever before – as a leader if you embrace this is will take you and your organisation to exciting new places.’

Advice from charity digital leaders is clear – Just make a start. You may make some mistakes, but the opportunities are too great to ignore.

Step Into The Shoes of Your Audience 

Digital can be applied in many ways for charities, from digital marketing to product development and service delivery. Regardless of how you use digital, there are some fundamental building blocks to success and one of these is to truly understand your audience.

In the Digital Toolkit, Katie Taylor from the Government Digital Service shared a compelling chapter on personas and user journeys. This might sound like technical jargon initially, but they are essentially about understanding two things:

1)    Who your audience is (Personas)

2)    How they use your service/website (User journey)

Here are some further details:


A persona is a fictional person who represents someone (or a group of people) who uses your product or service, such as a typical beneficiary, donor, or another key stakeholder. They are a great way to explore the different types of people your charity helps. There are many ways to develop personas. Some personas are very detailed, others are just a brief sketch of each type of user.

A word of warning though, using personas can be problematic if they are based on assumptions rather than research. Here are some of the ways that you can build personas:

  • Website & social media data – Google Analytics has a wealth of information that you can segment further.
  • Interview your supporters – This can be on the phone,  1-1 or via focus groups.
  • Speak with your fundraising team, especially those who have face to face contact with their audience.
  • Speak with your service delivery team about the people they encounter.

You know you’ve got enough detail when you can use the persona to talk to other people on your team to explain the main differences between the groups of people.

User journeys

Once you’ve developed personas, you could the map out a user journey.  A user journey map sets out how your audience could interact with your charity and its products and services. They are based on the steps people actually take to do something and can be made after analysing user research or with your users directly.

The beauty of user journeys is that you can make them quite granular (e.g. how service users might interact solely with an online service) or more ‘big picture’. The latter might be useful for charities who are supporting people over a period of years, such as with a long-term health condition. Either way, you need to look at their goals, motivations, pain points, what they are feeling and what they want to achieve.

Here’s an example User Journey for a charity looking to support a mother with post-natal depression:

Charity Toolkit story image 

Personas and user journeys don’t need to be technical or take up much budget, but they are a vital building block for any digital product, service or marketing plan.

Digital Doesn’t Just Mean Social Media

Digital can often be dismissed as ‘just social’ media when in fact it encompasses everything from product delivery to a widespread of digital marketing channels.

In the Digital Toolkit Graeme Manuel-Jones shared a fascinating chapter on how Diabetes UK used agile working practices to develop their diabetes risk assessment tool.

When it comes to marketing, social media can be a compelling channel for charities. You can find out more about social media for charities in the Charity Social Media Toolkit.

As great as social media is, there can be a tendency to overlook other channels that have been around for longer but still deliver results year on year. Here are some of the channels covered in the Digital Toolkit:

Email marketing

Charities need to be careful with their use of email marketing going forward with the introduction of GDPR, but as a channel, it is likely to remain as one of the most effective tools available.

Email open and click-through rates are dropping over time, there are still expected to be 2.9bn email users by 2019, with surveys showing that 72% of people prefer communication via email. 

Top tips for email marketing include:

  • Ensure they work well on mobiles
  • Keep them short and to the point – imagery helps
  • Send an action (but only one) in every email

Google Adwords

It probably hasn't escaped your notice, but Google serves adverts at the top of a search results page. The good news is that charities can apply for an 'Ad grant' which provides you with up to $10,000 per month to spend on advertising.

Applying for this grant is relatively straight forward, yet it is surprising that more charities don’t take this up.

There are some limitation to using the Ad grant account, but it is still a fabulous opportunity, and for smaller charities can provide a valuable lifeline for fundraising and awareness. You can use the Ad grant account in many different ways such as testing out paid advertising for your charity, driving direct fundraising revenue and raising awareness of your campaigns.

Remember that the adverts will only perform as well as your website allows. If you drive visitors to an irrelevant page or one that is hard to navigate, you could see a reduction in traffic and miss opportunities.

Search Engine Optimisation

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is often neglected as a channel in as it is seen too complex or 'something that just happens'. SEO doesn’t have to be complex though and there are many benefits in spending just a little time on this valuable channel. Here are some examples:

1) Potential Donors: A key building block is to ensure that donors can find you when they search for your name. Secondly, save them some time by having an SEO friendly donation page built around a topic. Keywords might include "Dementia research charity donation"

2) Activity fundraising: An individual looking for a charity to support might search for phrases such as "run royal parks half for charity". Such phrases might be very competitive though so you could go for more niche events such as 'Celtman for charity".

3) Service user: Some of your visitors might be direct service users, so it's important that they can find what you do quickly. This might mean searches such as "second-hand bike charity", or they may be seeking out information that you provide through research or support such as "diabetes symptoms" or "cancer forum"

4) Local user: Many charities have a local base so it's important that your pages are linked to local addresses and information. Users might search for "autism support Salisbury" for example.

5) Campaigns: An optimised website can help supporters find your causes. Searches might include "poverty in the UK" or "Youth activities Scotland". 

There are many tools out there to help you with boost your search marketing including Google Analytics, Google Search Console and the MOZ Open Site Explorer.

A Digital Future

The future is digital and you can find more hints and tips on topics including digital strategy and digital skills development in the toolkit.