How can charities make money in the digital era? – The London Economic

How can charities make money in the digital era?

According to Government figures there are more than 160,000 registered charities in England and Wales. Fundraising is a key source of income generation for many and, for some, the only source of income.
In this digital era, new opportunities for income generation are opening up to charities. Online, mobile and digital legacy are three areas where charities should be concentrating their efforts.
As is well-known, the social media network is vast. But just how vast? According to recent figures from Facebook for example, the number of monthly active users (MAUs) for the social media site, 4th quarter 2014, was close to 1.4 billion, up 13.4 percent from 2013. Furthermore, the number of mobile monthly active users (MMAUs) for the same period was almost 1.2 billion, up by more than 25 percent. The average time spent on Facebook per user per day was a little over 20 minutes.
These are truly staggering figures but what does this mean for charities? Many things.
First, Facebook’s MMAU stats make interesting reading. Globally, mobile is growing and is rapidly becoming the defining point in communications. According to figures for 2014 recently released by Deloitte, more than two thirds of UK adults – about 35 million people – now have a smartphone and the number is rising. The biggest growth was 55 year olds.
Mobile devices and apps are disrupting established business models, transforming (or even destroying) old firms, creating new ones, and fundamentally changing the way people communicate, shop, bank, get news and information and entertain themselves. Mobile technology offers businesses the opportunity to engage with customers, employees and other stakeholders anytime, anywhere. This is one of the reasons why they are investing heavily in mobile and have implemented mobile platforms into their current strategies. Charities need to follow suit.
Second, we live in an era of “always connected”. Such is the ubiquitous use of smartphones, tablets, laptops and other digital gizmos that they have become reflections of our personalities, our interests and our identities. They are as much a part of us as the clothes we wear.
Yet it would appear from some research data that charities in the UK are failing dismally to effectively use their online presence to capitalise on the opportunities presented. Research by Virgin Money Giving and Third Sector Insight, revealed that charities across the UK are not maximising the potential of online fundraising. Eight out of 10 charities say online fundraising accounts for less than 20 percent of annual donations. Only 2 percent feel they are maximising online fundraising as a donation channel. Other data suggest that text donation campaigns alone could realise more than £150 million annually.
Although some people still like to receive hard copy letters, a growing number can be reached and engaged online. By using various online strategies, charities can be more regularly in touch, sharing photos, videos, invitations and other relevant material.
Social media should be an integral component of every charity’s fundraising strategy. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and others have all become vital avenues for promoting awareness and engaging with people. With the addition of Big Data, they can become a direct path into the personalised information streams of millions of consumers, and provide a unique opportunity to interact directly with potential donors.
As Facebook has shown by the number of active users, there is a lot more engagement online that makes people feel part of something unique, where they can play an active role in a project they feel part of. However, to make the most of their online presence, charity management need to ensure that their websites are mobile-friendly.
Alongside the capital generation abilities afforded by online and mobile technologies is the issue of digital legacies. With digital assets in the UK believed to be in excess of £25 billion (PwC data), there is a veritable fortune that charities could make by discussing with people how they could bequeath their digital assets to the charity when they die.
Music, photos, videos, material protected by copyright, Bitcoins, air miles; the list of digital property can be extensive. Internet accounts are like a safety deposit box in a bank; only the owner of that box knows what’s inside. Yet the Internet and the safety deposit box can be poles apart. When the owner of the box dies it belongs to his or her estate and the executor gets to open the box and controls the contents. It’s not so  straight-forward with the Internet.
Nominated executors take care of individuals’ assets when they die, complying with the individual’s requests. But with Internet accounts, few people give consideration to the assets they hold resulting in those assets often being lost forever. This is where charities can play an important role, not only ensuring that those on their mailing lists are aware of the need to protect their digital assets, but also encouraging their members to bequeath some (or all) of the digital property to the charity when they die.
Even though many people will already have made a Will clearly outlining what they want to done with their property, digital assets may not necessarily comply with the same legal characteristics as physical assets. Additionally, Wills can be an awkward vehicle for digital assets due to the often rapidly changing nature and ownership of digital assets. Furthermore, a Will is a public document which anybody can obtain, as a result, law firms advise people not to include their passwords in their Will.
Bibic, a UK charity established to help children and adolescents with conditions affecting their social, communication and learning abilities, is one of the first charities to have teamed up with Planned Departure to benefit from digital legacies. As a registered charity that receives no government funding and relies heavily on support and donations from trusts and foundations, companies, individuals and community groups, Mark Flower, Corporate and Community Fundraising Officer, strongly believes that digital legacies could indeed be a viable way forward for bibic to gain funding. 
If more people are made aware of the need to protect their digital property and the benefits of leaving that property to their chosen charity, the charities will receive invaluable funding from an ever growing list of donors, particularly as we expand into the digital era.

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