A look inside Oxfam’s four-point digital strategy to boost online fundraising

Profile picture for user catheverett By Cath Everett May 22, 2017
Oxfam is pursuing a digital fundraising strategy, with the focus not just on generating revenues but also on boosting both its reach and engagement.

The third sector is not an area known for its adoption of slick technology. But as competition for money continues to increase and traditional fundraising routes keep on being squeezed, the bigger charities at least are starting to develop specific digital strategies in a bid to make it easier for members of the public to donate.

Voluntary giving (donations from the public or grants from foundations and trusts) is only one potential form of revenue generation. Others comprise statutory (grants from local and central government), corporate or earned (selling goods, services or expertise). But it is certainly the most high profile one - although that is not to say that other more back-end processes are not ripe for automation too.

One of the charities that is most advanced in terms of digital fundraising activity to date is Oxfam GB. Since joining the organisation five years ago, head of digital fundraising, Matt Jerwood, has has seen online public donations jump from 5% to 17% of the total in 2016. He says:

The amount of public fundraising income coming through digital is rising each year and will continue to grow. It’s one of the key strands of our fundraising strategy as we want to reach lots of people and ensure they’re engaged with what we’re saying. Digital is one way of doing this, but it also goes across everything we do in many ways.

The global aid charity’s digital strategy consists of four key elements, which deal with how to:

Increase reach and volume

Jerwood believes that, unlike TV advertising, in which all you can do is hope to touch the right demographic, digital enables you to “reach more people for whom your message is relevant”.

For example, at music festivals such as Glastonbury, Oxfam usually puts together activities to try and encourage people to join its annual campaign. Last year, the campaign was ‘Stand as One’ with refugees , while the year before it was ‘The big lip synch’ and ‘Getting lippy’ about poverty.

As part of this activity and in order to demonstrate the impact of its work, the charity regularly makes Samsung Gear virtual reality headsets available to provide festival-goers with an “immersive experience”. The headsets enable them to watch 360-degree videos showing stories from places where the organisation works such as Iraq, Nepal and Tanzania.

If viewers decide they would like to sign up in support, they can then do so via WorkMobile’s data capture system rather than having to laboriously write out paper-based forms. Jerwood says:

We’ve seen sign-up rates increase as new supporters don’t have to hand-write everything. It’s much quicker and easier to use a mobile form for recording personal details, which include audio files and photos of people participating in that year’s campaign. All supporters have to do is tell us who they are, we send them a text, which includes a pic of them getting involved in the campaign, they click on it and it goes onto Facebook. So it’s speeded up the journey, made supporters happier and we’ve also said ‘thanks’. It’s a great way of extending our reach.

Optimise the donor/supporter experience

The idea here is to ensure that when members of the public reach Oxfam’s website, whether that is from mobile device or a PC, the donor journey is as smooth and easy as possible. To help achieve this aim, the charity has now added support for Apple Pay and Pay Pal. Jerwood says:

Two years ago, it would take two minutes to make a donation, but now it’s down to 10 seconds.

Improve ease-of-use and the user experience

The objective in this context is to remove any barriers to support. To this end, Oxfam was one of 11 charities, including childrens’ charity Barnados and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, to participate in the third sector’s first trial of contactless collection boxes, which started in September 2016.

Although the boxes, which were developed by credit card provider, Barclaycard, looked not unlike traditional ones, they were also fitted with a contactless reader and chip and pin terminal for handling higher value payments. Oxfam piloted them at railway stations and in the stores of partners such as supermarket chain Sainsburys.

At the end of the four-month trial, Barclaycard indicated that supporters making contactless payments generally gave about £3, or three times as much as the average cash donor. As a result, it claimed that the third sector could expect to earn an extra £80 million per year from the devices - not least because a study undertaken by pollsters YouGov found that one in seven people failed to donate as they no longer carried cash on them.

Although Jerwood says that the technology was “great” as it “made it easy for people to give quickly”, he is uncertain whether at this point the organisation will adopt it or not. Such a decision will rest on the cost of each unit and whether they proved to be value for money, especially as uptake was “limited”.

Ensure transparency, control and advocacy

Oxfam is the first charity to use digital technology not just as a means of generating donations, but also to build a relationship and increase engagement with donors, thus burnishing its brand at the same time.

To this end, it has released the ‘MyOxfam’ mobile app, which supporters can use to control the amount of money they contribute each month, see their donation history and how much items given to charity shops were sold for. They can also view an interactive map, which shows where their money is being spent as well as read stories and look at video footage that demonstrates how it is being used to benefit service users. Jerwood says:

It’s about Oxfam giving back to supporters to show that their contribution was worthwhile.

But the key challenge for the organisation in digital terms is “how to keep up with the expectations of the modern supporter”. Jerwood explains:

It’s about how do we make it easy for people to do what they’re trying to do, and how do we achieve all of that in a timely manner?...We see mobile as the future and it’s absolutely at the heart of the things we’re working on due to its reach, its ease-of-use, its ability to give people control and transparency and the fact that usage is growing at a fantastic rate. It still doesn’t account for the majority of our income, but it’s growing very fast as a share of it.

In fact, mobile now accounts for about 51% of the charity’s digital traffic, he says. But as Jerwood concludes:

We need to be relevant, easy to support and have enough reach. As a result, digital is across most of what we do, and it’s expected that most roles will have a digital element over time. Our income in this area is growing so it’s very important and my hope is that, in another five year’s time, they’ll not be anyone with ‘digital’ specifically in their job title. It’ll just be what we do.

My take

Although Backbaud’s 2016 Charitable Giving report indicated that a mere 7.2% of individual donations in the UK came from online giving, this figure will inevitably start to change as large charities such as Oxfam begin exploiting the possibilities of digital technology more effectively. The danger is, of course, that this situation only increases the digital divide with smaller charities that have generally less resource and much more limited access to tech skills and savvy.