The increasing demand on charities and shrinking government aid dollars means not-for-profits have to rethink their marketing strategies. Alexandra Mayhew reports digital offers an exciting and cost-effective solution.

As governments reduce spending, budgets are cut, including much needed aid grants. What was once a competitive not-for-profit (NFP) space is now cut-throat.

Charities are facing smaller budgets and an increasing population – and therefore an increasing need for aid – a very serious predicament. Now more than ever, organisations must make every dollar stretch further. 

In a world where brand is king, NFPs are left with minimal budgets to market themselves, a key factor in gaining public donations.

One aspect many Australian charities seem to be lacking is innovation in digital. 

Some believe they have digital covered with a weekly-updated Facebook page and instead continue to rely on colour brochures sent via snail mail to thousands of donors as their primary form of communication (note the cost of this approach). 

The argument of alienating audiences by moving communication efforts online is unfounded; there is no denying that the majority of Australians are interacting with at least one form of social media. There are over 11 million Australian’s on Facebook (that’s 53% of the population) and 2.1million are on Twitter (each with an average of 115 followers).  

Charities must better understand their demographics and realise it is more effective to garner the support of a 20-somwething via a direct public tweet that shows the world that person is a responsible global citizen, then to send that person a letter in the post.   

Charities should not make the mistake of thinking it is only iGen and GenY on social media. 34% of Australian Twitter users are aged 45-54. 

And don’t think the older Baby Boomers aren’t there either. Many have accounts, albeit set-up by their more tech-savvy offspring, but nonetheless they are interacting in the space. And this digital relationship can be used in conjunction with more traditional marketing techniques. 

Social media has made it easier to target genders, for example, 66% of Australian Twitter users are male, while the power of the mummy bloggers cannot be ignored (and creating relationships with these women can result in powerful brand reach).

While charities struggled to survive the GFC one charity is worth noting, charity: water. The organisation managed to develop swiftly since its creation, boasting rapidly growing amounts of money invested in water programs throughout the world (2009: $5,439,281; 2010: $8,609,576; 2011: $17,646,927). 

Why has this charity blossomed while so many others have folded?

Firstly, its communication techniques. When someone donates to charity: water, the NFP works fast to develop an online relationship with the donor, emailing information about the donation process and explaining exactly where the money is going - to the point of GPS details on the well that money helped to build. It creates a profile for that donor on its site for anyone to see and tracks all donations coming into that account and any that person makes to other people within charity: water. 

Also it’s the simplicity. Simply donate a birthday, or a Christmas. 

And finally, people know 100% of their donations go directly to the field to fund water projects. Operating expenses are covered via other avenues.

It is easy to talk with charity: water on Facebook, twitter or via the website. It sends donors detailed reports, videos, and invites to its parties. A charity: water donor is made to feel a part of the organisation. 

It is this culture of inclusion and rapid, relevant communication that Australia charities must adopt. 

It is time to abandon the old marketing plans, review the communications plans and get serious about digital. 

The internet changed the game and social media transformed it. It is up to NFPs to adapt or be swept off into the return to sender pile.