Why charities should focus on engaging older donors online

Why charities should focus on engaging older donors online

hands on keyboard (1).jpg

Digital channels aren’t just the preserve of younger audiences; charities should focus on engaging older donors online too. Jenny Ramage reports.

We all know how important a role digital plays in the lives of young people. But are charities doing enough to engage older people online? Neil Thornburn, digital transformation manager at RNLI, suspects not. “It seems to be the trend, when looking at technology and digital, to focus on younger people, but actually it’s a common misconception that older people are not adopting the technology as quickly.” he says.  

Indeed, smartphone adoption among 65-74 year-olds has doubled since 2012. And the fastest growing demographic on Twitter is 55-64 year olds. “It shows the maturer life stages are adopting these technologies quicker than other life stages. It’s something we cant ignore”, says Neil.


Stewarding older supporters

At Canal & River Trust, digital plays a huge role in retention and stewardship of older supporters. “Many users of our Canal View app are older people”, explains Lauren White, supporter engagement manager at the charity. “And most of our boating customers have ipads on their boat and use them to navigate. We’ve had a lot of success with our Waterside Watch product, a monthly sponsorship programme where supporters get content via text message that links to a blog, and emails about different habitats and species on the waterways. 

“I do think there is a tendency to underestimate how older people use technology”, she says.  

Paul Handley, co-founder and strategy partner at Campfire Marketing, thinks some charities are missing out because they think digital fundraising is only for younger audiences. 

“A lot of charities think online fundraising either equals social media stuff like the Ice Bucket Challenge and those  things which are aimed at a younger audience, or that online fundraising means you send an email, rather than a letter, which is I think fundamentally missing the point.” 

“Older people are engaging digitally, and the principles of emotional fundraising are the same whatever age group you’re targeting,” he says. “With stewardship, it’s about being able to beam back the sort of work that’s being done in their name. A flat piece of text isn’t going to do that as well as an engaging piece of film.”


Bringing stories to life online

And film, of course, is where digital channels really come into their own, enabling charities to breathe life into their stories. World Vision’s child sponsorship programme is a great example. Mark Dibden, head of marketing and campaigns at the charity, explains: “We talk about helping our sponsors to see, feel, believe and understand the difference they are making. Video enables them to do that in a way that words and pictures on a mailpack never can.  

“Our target audience is definitely older donors - 48-65 year olds. And the experience we’re trying to give them increasingly relies on the digital content we’re capturing, video in particular, and creating ways to get those out to our donors.   

“Video creates this lightbulb moment for a lot of our sponsors, where they say: now I can see for myself what my sponsored child is really like, see a glimmer in their eye, or get a sense of their personality.”  

The proof is in the pudding, says Mark. “We’ve seen the positive impact of that content in terms of improving early conversion and retention to our sponsorship programme, so we’re investing more and more in retention of sponsors this way.


Digital is for all ages

At RNLI, Neil thinks it’s crucial for charities to recognise that digital content appeals to all age groups. “I’m not saying we should take away from print and direct mail, those things are still fantastic, but we need to recognise that the number of older users of digital media is growing pretty rapidly. 

“At some point we need to be making a conscious decisions to target everyone, not just younger people, with innovative products. If you don’t, then at some point you may find yourself behind the curve and trying to catch up.”


Jenny Ramage is editor of The Fundraiser



Get the latest fundraising advice and insight

Sign me up