Digital on different budgets

By Eranta Andersone

The newly active CIPR Not-for-Profit Group held its inaugural AGM and a panel discussion event on 29th October. The evening’s focus was on digital communications and achieving great results on different budgets. More than 50 people registered to take part live and online.
Helen Reynolds, the founder of the award-winning communications agency Comms Creatives, headed up a panel of speakers from across the charity sector: Faye Farthing of Endometriosis UK, Leanne Manchester from The Wildlife Trusts and Beth Murray, Program Manager at Workplace for Good, who also hosted of the event.The discussion focused on the role of community in digital communications, as well as the importance of testing in campaigns. The panel also identified key issues faced by many comms professionals: battling an ‘always on’ culture.

Community at the heart of digital

Faye Farthing emphasised the importance of putting people and communities at the heart of all digital communications in order to drive positive change. Sharing real stories of women battling endometriosis on the charity’s website and social media accounts has helped increase awareness of the condition. The Endometriosis UK team has also successfully campaigned for policy change by starting a petition on and put forward spokespeople from the community to tell their stories on broadcasting media programmes, such as BBC News.
Leanne Manchester shared her experience of building and managing a Facebook community of 24,000 nature enthusiasts for The Wildlife Trusts. Even though frequent engagement and moderation of the group posts are necessary, Leanne also advises to give the community some freedom. Communications teams can do this by nurturing experts and tagging them in questions from other community members, as well as encouraging self-moderation.
Beth Murray believes in going where the community is and nurturing it by facilitating conversations — this was also echoed by Helen who emphasised the need to make interactions easy, such as asking community members to share their favourite apps. Organisations should also beware forcing their agenda on a community — nobody wants to be told what to think.
Look to your internal community as well: volunteers are a valuable asset and should be treated as part of the team.

Testing and learning from existing data

All speakers placed value on split testing in campaigns — this is a great way to get early indications of audience engagement without much of a financial investment.   The Wildlife Trusts team has traced almost 50% of their conversions from Facebook so they use split testing in adverts to determine what different segments of their audiences want to see — this works well when trying maximise the campaign successes. Despite no increase in digital budget, the number of 30 Days Wild campaign sign-ups has grown year-on-year, showing that impact on a small budget is a reality.
Faye Farthing advocates for a pragmatic, build-your-case approach to testing, identifying good and bad outcomes, risks and impact. Beth agrees, pointing out the systemic fear of failure in charity sector exists in part because funding comes from people’s donations. However, if teams don’t strive for better campaign results, they fail to reach more people and raise funds. Digital tactics give us the opportunity to test on a small scale. Senior buy-in can be a challenge so Leanne Manchester advises to demonstrate the benefits of testing in order to get management on board.
Audience insights is another priority for successful digital teams. Both Endometriosis UK and The Wildlife Trusts digital leads place huge importance of spending time on analysing understanding and growing their audiences, and later using that information to inform their digital strategy. Another benefit on this research-driven approach is that it gives the digital team a clear idea of what other teams in the organisation can do to help achieve both team and organisational objectives.

Building a culture: how?

The most recent CIPR State of the Profession survey identified an ‘always on’ culture as a major cause for workplace stress. So, what can leaders do to protect their teams’ wellbeing?
Helen Reynolds says: “you can’t change the culture without changing the culture.” Leaders have to quite literally lead by example: take their holidays, use full lunch breaks and so on. Culture is incredibly important and sends a message to all teams, in the organisation. Beth Murray urges leaders to set clear expectations and use them to protect their teams.
Many of the charity comms professionals work in small teams or teams of one. To mitigate the pressure this can put on people, the panel advises to prepare in advance when possible and letting others help by creating shared asset storage, pre-approved social media posts and press release templates.  Not-for-profit is such an open sector, willing to share successes and lessons learned with each other.

Digital on different budgets — key takeaways:

- Power of community wins campaigns. Communities don’t always have to be created — sometimes you simply have to find it. Once you’re there, engage, monitor and empower the community members. Remember that it’s people who drive change, organisations only facilitate it.
- Make volunteers part of the team and brand by giving social media training, checking in and being available for questions.
- Testing isn’t failing. Split testing gives us the opportunity to experiment safely, on a small budget and under-the-radar. If you don’t try, you won’t know! Use the results to inform your strategy and to secure senior buy-in.
- Know your audience but always look to grow it. Have a plan for what your audience wants to see but don’t forget about the general public; that’s where your audience growth will come from.
- Idea is king. Engaging ideas speak to people around you. Before committing to an idea ask yourself why should anyone care?
- Be brave! You can be ambitious and make a difference on any budget. Digital tactics allow us to find what works relatively cheaply.