The tech challenges in growing NFP giving and volunteering

Business man dropping coin in donation jar

A new report reveals that while Australian charities are making progress in using new technologies to facilitate giving and volunteering, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

The study, Giving and volunteering: the nonprofit perspective November 2017, identified a significant uptake of new technologies since a previous Giving Australia study in 2005.

Most charities used some form of internet-based technology. Three-quarters had a website, but less than half of these were mobile optimised.

The study, commissioned by the Department of Social Services, found that 59 per cent used social media. Facebook was the most common platform (used by 55 per cent of all respondents and 94 per cent of those using a social media platform), followed by Twitter and YouTube.

In addition, 11 per cent of respondents had used third party fundraising platforms and 4 per cent of charities had used crowdfunding campaigns.

Participants highlighted how innovations in social media and technology were enabling a greater flow of information through two-way communications, deeper engagement with issues and causes, more participation and more collaboration.

Yet, only 20 per cent of survey respondents believed their organisations were currently using technology well.

Reasons cited for this included a lack of human and financial resources to maximise the potential of new platforms.

Added to this, few participants were seeing the hoped-for financial return on investment in online fundraising.

For some organisations, the difficulty in translating online engagement into dollars meant that the risks they associated with having a large social media presence outweighed the potential benefits. Losing control of content was cited as a key risk.

Third party platforms for crowdfunding and peer-to-peer giving were also seen as offering mixed blessings.

Although peer-to-peer fundraising enabled people to take action and ownership of their giving, participants worried that third-party platforms would decrease direct engagement. This trend, known as disintermediation, enables donors and volunteers to bypass charities to tackle issues or raise funds directly.

Converting supporters of peer-to-peer fundraising events into regular donors was also noted as challenging. The issue of data security was considered a large concern by some participants.

Interestingly, the study found that charities still relied heavily on traditional fundraising practices.

For those seeking non-government revenue in 2016, the most common ways of doing this was event-based fundraising, such as fêtes or barbecues (42.1 per cent), regular giving programs (38.8 per cent) and membership fees (35.7 per cent).

Innovation was as not yet replacing tried and tested means of fundraising with 21 per cent of fundraising organisations using direct mail.

As Generation X moves into what has traditionally been a ‘giving’ phase of the life cycle and Generation Y plays an increasing role in philanthropy, participants discussed the challenges of adapting to changing demographics.

Understanding what drove younger people to give and volunteer was viewed as important in helping fundraisers and managers of volunteers develop campaigns that worked for these groups.

Interview and focus group participants highlighted the importance of direct impact and hands-on experience for young supporters, for example, crowdfunding campaigns.

They also believed that skilled and virtual volunteering opportunities appealed to young people. Such opportunities were seen as valuable and a path to deeper engagement.

NPOs confessed that they needed different approaches to tap into this energy, as traditional forms of recruiting support were not appealing to younger generations.

The study was conducted by the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (ACPNS), with the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) Swinburne and the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs, have partnered to undertake this research project.

Its data sources included a review of the literature, 16 qualitative interviews and 11 focus groups with a wide range of NPO representatives and a questionnaire answered by 769 charities and 197 NPOs.

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