You learn something every day, they say, and Andrew Chaggar is certainly finding this the case as he delves deeper into the leadership of European Disaster Volunteers.
As regular readers of my blog will know, we’re currently working hard to develop our charity’s organisational capacity. Up until now, that process has been predominantly backward facing. We’ve been analysing our past performance to prepare annual accounts and reports and also to help us understand our current position.
This month however we’ve reached a milestone - the analysis is done, our accounts are submitted. For the first time since leaving Haiti we’re facing forward, and we’ve set strategic targets for the next several years.
One of these key targets is increasing our ability to attract more funding and support from volunteers with professional skills. As a result I’m learning about another area important for charities: marketing.
Before becoming an aid worker I was an engineer and had been conditioned to communicate in cold facts. As a result I have sometimes struggled with other types of communications where subtleties of wording can shift emphasis or even meaning.
Overall, marketing was an area that I didn’t completely understand. I understood the concept of communicating value to attract the right people, but I struggled with how, exactly, this worked let alone how to measure successes and weaknesses. If I’m honest, I thought marketing was a bit “wishy-washy”.
Thankfully, we have again received the support of the Vodafone Foundation as they’ve chosen to support two staff for EDV. One of them, Roberta, is a marketing professional, and she has been instrumental in helping me wrap my head around marketing.
Roberta has been tasked with developing a marketing plan. Her first steps were auditing our current activities and analysing our environment, both in regards to other humanitarian organisations and the wider charitable sector. Her report came as a pleasant surprise to me: marketing is actually very fact based.
To help me understand how we might attract more donors Roberta first wanted me to understand who gives what to whom. So she pointed us to last December’s report on charitable giving in the UK by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Charities Aid Foundation.
The statistics contained make interesting reading as they help me understand in more quantifiable terms our charity’s existing fundraising strengths and weaknesses. It also shows me that marketing is not “wishy-washy”, but rather a series of intelligent responses to the environment in which we operate.
As a disaster responder I was interested to learn that overseas causes are the fourth most popular amongst donors, attracting 17 per cent of individuals and 10 per cent of the overall amount donated. Having wrote a blog about the media’s influence on disaster funding last February, it was also illuminating to see that a temporary spike of 24 per cent in the former figure is attributed to Haiti’s high-profile earthquake.
There are also more specific numbers useful to evaluating our own position. For example, while online giving is on the rise, only 7 per cent of those donating did so online. By comparison, 75 per cent of those who donated to us in the same period did so online. It’s also worth noting that these donors gave 28 per cent of our total income online. If you narrow the analysis to exclude grants and other income then that figure jumps from 28 per cent to 73 per cent of our donations being received via the Internet.
The report doesn’t state the total amount of online charitable giving so there is not enough information here to draw definitive conclusions, but these numbers certainly suggest that we take an unusually large proportion of donations online. This is in my mind both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand, we’ve so far neglected to capitalise on traditional opportunities. On the other hand, while other charities are trying to increase their online donations, we are well positioned in this growing area.
These are just a few facts among the many that Roberta’s analysis has generated - a great deal more information has been framed by Roberta’s overall market research. Our decisions about how to act on this kind of information will form our marketing plan. Where this phrase, “marketing plan”, used to make me scratch my head a little, I’m now keen to use the information we have to capitalise on opportunities and address weaknesses. We have the information we need to make informed decisions. Looked upon in this light, maybe marketing and engineering aren’t too different after all.