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Social fundraising: what makes a successful campaign?

Advances in technology have changed the social fundraising landscape dramatically over the past few years; Matt James at WellChild explains how they set about harnessing social fundraising in a brave new digital world… 

These are challenging times for charity fundraising. Charities are experiencing greater competition and more regulation under the glare of media scrutiny, yet new opportunities are arising from a digital landscape that is brimming with new tools, platforms and devices for engaging new generations of ‘connected’ supporters across multiple channels.

Social fundraising (or peer-to-peer fundraising) is not new. The art of unlocking the wider networks of individual supporters has been the Holy Grail of charity fundraisers for years. Indeed, JustGiving were acquired by Blackbaud in October this year for £93 million after 18 years building an entire business model around it.

Like most charities, at WellChild we are no strangers to social fundraising. In 2016/2017, challenge events made up 26% of our entire income. It is growing every year and social fundraising in the traditional sense is at the heart of its success. What has made our programme so successful is a commitment on delivering outstanding experiences for all our runners, riders and trekkers. Outstanding customer experience if you will. Indeed, a recurring piece of feedback is how ‘looked after’ our challenge event participants have felt relative to causes they have previously supported. Many come back year after year.

Not only does this equate to greater numbers hitting their fundraising targets, but also helps participant acquisition as word of mouth spreads among friends, colleagues and family.

The birth of Social Fundraising 2.0

The difference today is that in the age of new digital technology, social media, crowdfunding and connected generations of millennials, generation X and Y, this type of fundraising needs an appropriate name. ‘Social’ or ‘peer-to-peer’ fit the bill just nicely.

Facebook is the latest to jump on the band wagon. Even if to steel some lunch from the likes of JustGiving and Virgin Money, who have been the dominant social fundraising platforms for sometime now. Earlier this month it announced its new ‘Personal Fundraiser’ feature, prompting digital fundraising executives to get excited about yet another new platform to exploit.

While social fundraising as a concept itself is not new, what this brave new world does offer (and this is the exciting bit) is a bigger playground within which to test new social fundraising ideas, campaigns and donor journeys. It is the era of Social Fundraising 2.0.

Catching a wave

The Ice Bucket Challenge, Movember and FirstFiver successes are well documented, but they are arguably the exception rather than the rule. Transformational if you can catch the right wave, but difficult to engineer.

At WellChild, we made a foray into the world of Social Fundraising 2.0 with a schools campaign earlier this year. We invited schools from across the UK to submit a video of their choir singing the popular Wizard of Oz classic ‘Over The Rainbow’. Videos were hosted online and schools were incentivised to reach out to their community networks for votes and to fundraise for WellChild. The winning school choir got to sing at this year’s WellChild Awards at The Royal Lancaster in London in front of Prince Harry and a room full of celebrity guests.

The campaign paid for itself 100 times over with over 100 primary school entrants from across the UK. It created a huge amount of social media engagement (it was broadcast live on Facebook) and was a once in a lifetime experience for the children involved.

We have since launched #MidnightSelfie, a digital fundraising campaign, helping to raise awareness of what thousands of families caring for a seriously ill child 24/7 at home are going through every night. It’s early days and we are open-minded to how it might evolve.

Creating value

So what makes a successful social fundraising campaign in this new age of connected technologies? How can smaller and medium sized charities compete? For me, it’s about focus and value creation.

To capture the imagination of supporters to such an extent that they will be motivated to open up their networks to you requires more than just a strong charitable mission. Put simply, there must be something in it for them and that something should be as remarkable as possible.

For our winning school teacher it was the chance to give his pupils (many of whom were from disadvantaged backgrounds) the opportunity to perform on stage at a glamorous red carpet event at a top London hotel, in front of an audience containing many of their celebrity heroes and WellChild Patron Prince Harry. They will remember him for that experience for the rest of their lives.

For our challenge event participants, it is about giving them the best experience we can. Whether they are running a marathon or climbing a mountain, we want every participant to walk away feeling supported, appreciated and inspired to do more with us.

Back to basics

It is easy to get excited about the burgeoning landscape of digital fundraising platforms and channels available to us. However, it is also easy to be blinded by lure of these tools and to forget that the principles of good marketing and fundraising have not changed. Sometimes it’s about going back to basics before jumping feet first into this new world.

Without clear focus and an understanding of your target audience combined with a proposition that creates value not just for the cause, but also for the supporter, it will be hard to make any social fundraising campaign work regardless of the channel.

Crowdfunding is a great example, where a compelling range of rewards for funders is seen as an essential bedfellow to an inspiring cause.

The simple truth

The fact of the matter is that in a competitive environment an inspiring charity mission is no longer enough. Regardless of the dazzling new tools available to us in the brave new world of Social Fundraising 2.0, the art of value creation is key to unlocking networks of support.

Matt James is Director of Communications and Marketing at WellChild

Matt will be speaking at the Successful Fundraising post GDPR conference on 6 December. Book your place here today

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