How charities are reaching new audiences through TikTok

25 Apr 2022 Voices

Between them Shelter, Battersea, British Red Cross and The Black Country Living Museum have over 1.7 million TikTok followers. Sam Wait spoke to the charities about the platform

You might think of TikTok as a platform reserved for children, teenagers or renditions of Ratatouille the Musical (yes, that was a real thing). Because of this, charities often feel apprehensive about using it. 

However, the platform has over one billion users – making it a social media tool which could be as valuable to a charity’s strategy as Facebook or Instagram. Indeed, many charities have already jumped on the bandwagon. 

With eight users joining TikTok every second, more charities will be looking at whether the platform can help them raise the profile of their cause. 

A spokesperson from CharityComms explains: “TikTok can be a great way to let people find you because of your content, not necessarily because of your cause, and then get to know you through your videos.”

Reach younger audiences

Battersea has 25,600 followers on TikTok and over 130,000 likes. It posts videos of the dogs and cats in its care, foster journeys and recipes for homemade pet treats. 

The animal charity began using TikTok when it noticed younger audiences were underrepresented among its social media followers. 

Lauren Rayner, head of digital and innovation at Battersea, says: “We know that engaging younger audiences is crucial for driving generational change in the way that rescue is perceived and supported, so we saw an opportunity in TikTok, which has a user base that skews younger than our other social channels, to create a community of advocates for Battersea and the rescue cause, as well as future donors and supporters.”

Black Country Living Museum has the largest number of TikTok followers, out of the charities we spoke to, with a staggering 1.3 million followers and over 21.7 million likes. It posts educational videos about the history of the Black Country, as well as videos of employees in historic dress acting out roles from the past. All of its TikTok content is produced in-house.

Similar to Battersea, the younger audience on TikTok was a draw for Black Country Living Museum. 

A spokesperson from the charity says: “It's a fantastic platform that allows us to reach a wider audience that doesn't normally engage with museum social media. The majority of TikTok users are aged between 16 and 25, an age range that we don't normally engage with. 

“Having a presence on TikTok gives us an avenue to create brand awareness with a different kind of audience. It's also a great way of giving the museum a ‘personality’, allowing us to challenge the stereotype of an ‘old-fashioned museum’.”

Raise awareness of charitable causes

Shelter uses the platform to highlight its fundraising campaigns such as #NoHomeKit and create educational videos about the housing crisis in the UK. 

A spokesperson from Shelter says the charity likes the platform because “it’s universal” and “if people like what you’re doing, your message can spread far and wide”.

They continue: “Some of our most engaging content has been about breaking down myths around eviction rules, explaining what hidden homelessness is, or giving practical tips such as how to help someone who is sleeping rough, or how to access free sanitary products if you’re homeless and living in temporary accommodation.

“TikTok is a great platform for us to be able to create short, educational videos that are also entertaining and that show real people working at Shelter.” 

British Red Cross, which has over 432,000 followers, also produces educational videos about the charity, as well as its response to current issues, such as its work to help Ukraine, and often answers medical questions from its followers. 

Nana Crawford, social media manager at the British Red Cross, says TikTok allows the charity to present its content in a “different and more engaging way”. 

Donation stickers helped Red Cross raise £90,000

Donation stickers are an in-app feature, which can be embedded into the videos or livestreams of verified accounts. When viewers click on the sticker they are directed to a donation window. 

These stickers were launched in 2020, and British Red Cross, which was one of the charities involved from the beginning, has so far generated over £90,000 from the feature. 

Crawford says: “Since then we've used TikTok to support emergency appeals. I find that the more exposure you have about the work you’re doing then the easier it is to talk about your work as people are already getting information about your organisation.” 

The charity is careful about how it asks for donations. 

“We don't always ask for donations on TikTok,” Crawford adds. “But when we do we position it as a way for people to continue to support our work. We talk about the impact of our donations and the impact our audiences can make; this helps us showcase how our work can make a difference but ultimately how someone's donation impacts another person.”

Brand awareness first, fundraising second

The Black Country Living Museum does not use generally use the account as part of its fundraising strategy. Instead it uses it more as “an educational tool or as a platform for brand awareness”, but the charity has received “anecdotal evidence from staff members that people do visit the museum having seen our TikTok account”, according to the spokesperson.  

Likewise, Rayner from Battersea says that asking directly for donations has not been part of its strategy, but often uses the platform to raise awareness of upcoming fundraising events such as its Muddy Dog Challenge. 

“So far, our strategy has been focused on establishing our presence on the channel and starting to build a follower base. We see TikTok as playing a role in growing awareness and building connection with new audiences, rather than being a direct driver of funds,” she explains.

Once the channel is more established, the charity may begin to experiment with paid advertising or donation stickers, it said. 

Similarly, Shelter has said it is exploring ways it can use the platform to fundraise. A spokesperson from the charity said: “We would love to become an approved TikTok charity so that we can start using features like donation stickers.”

‘You have to build a following first of supporters before you can start asking for money’

It might seem counter-intuitive to spend hours working on a TikTok account and not use it to ask for donations. However, British Red Cross says it’s imperative charities focus on building a following and presence on the platform before doing so. 

Crawford advises: “Before even trying to ask money you need to work on building your profile. Who are you as an organisation, what do you stand for and what do you do? You have to build a following first of supporters before you can start asking for money. 

“When you do decide to ask for donations, then think about it as a campaign rather than simply an ‘ask’. How will you showcase the impact of people's donations and what will you be doing with their donations? Working with influencers can help reach new audiences and broaden the effectiveness of your campaign.”

What are the downsides of TikTok?

Videos can be anywhere from 15 seconds to three minutes long, which can, according to Crawford, make it  “hard to keep up” with TikTok trends. 

Likewise, Rayner from Battersea says creating a TikTok account for a charity “requires time and attention”, as with any social media channel. 

She continues: “It’s important to spend time building a community, being tapped into the culture and aware of the right trends. The fact that it’s built on a content graph can make it less predictable than other channels, as videos are shown to users based on their interests, rather than being limited to who they follow. It requires a bit of experimentation, and that takes time, and a willingness to take risks.”

Spokespeople from Shelter and the Black Country Living Museum add that creating TikTok content can take up a lot of time. 

For this reason, Shelter has begun batch-creating its content and aims to create approximately 40 to 50 TikToks in an afternoon and schedule them over the next few weeks. 

Black Country Living Museum said: “TikTok can be massively draining on staff capacity with sometimes relatively little return. A video can take upwards of 12 hours to create from conception to delivery, which is a long time for a video that is generally under two minutes long. We are a small team so we don't have the capacity to post every day, as most high-performing accounts would.”

Therefore, it is worth considering whether TikTok is worth fits your organisation before starting it, as it can take up considerable time. 

‘Don’t be afraid to use the platform’

The spokesperson from Black Country Living Museum advises: “Don't be afraid to use the platform, it's a great way to engage with new audiences. Having said that, it would be wise to consider if this platform fits your brand, and if the audience you’re looking to reach fits the audience profile on TikTok.

“Ask yourself: how can I create content that can share my message whilst still be engaging with users of this platform? It’s also key to consider the size of your organisation – content creation can be a huge drain on resources and time for staff, so it’s important to assess whether it is an effective use of time for your charity.”

Rayner, from Battersea, suggests that charities should develop a strategy specific to Tiktok.

“It’s important that charities understand the culture of TikTok and develop a channel strategy,” she says. “It requires a bespoke approach, and charities need to be immersed in its trends in order to use it effectively. It’s not a channel for reposting content from other social accounts. The unpolished nature of TikTok gives freedom to experiment – so take risks!”

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