Charity technology in 2020: The three horizons

While it is true that the past informs the future there are times when we have a limited view of the horizon from where we stand today. For many years now, I’ve taken a three horizons approach to think about what is happening now, next, and down the road. Recently at Blackbaud Europe’s bbcon UK conference in London, I talked about these three horizons and what they likely mean for charities across the UK.

Horizon one

This horizon is all about today and the next 12 months. If we take a wider perspective, then we quickly see there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty, unsettled global events, and important issues that impact charities in the UK. There remains a lot of uncertainty around Brexit and the potential short-term implications for organisations. We also have a number of global political, economic, and human relief challenges that will increase the demand for the social good work that so many charities provide.

Research from the Blackbaud Institute and our UK fundraising benchmarking show positive signs for fundraising in the UK. As of September 2019, overall giving in the UK was up 1.1% on a year-overyear basis. This is a return to growth from some negative trends in 2018. Digital fundraising continues to have growth potential in the UK and the data shows significantly higher average gift amounts for online compares to nearly every other channel.

Yes, giving continues to face a challenging environment. But a strong focus on donor acquisition through the right channels, engaging them, and embracing new approaches to donor retention are key. As organisations balance growing both recurring giving and more advanced fundraising programs, then the focus of stewarding and retaining donors long-term must always be a priority.

Horizon two

This horizon is all about the next 12 to 24 months. We are now living where the one constant is change. Consumer behaviour quickly becomes donor behaviour and we need to anticipate and prepare for these pattern changes in advance. In 2019, approximately 24% of all online donations happened on a mobile device. We continue to see digital interaction with the web, social media, and mobile devices growing with supporters of all ages and interests. Being mobile friendly is no longer optional and yet we still see many charities struggle to engage and communicate online, via email, and with online giving in ways that are optimised for mobile devices.

We should also expect changes in traditional thinking about how best to fundraise from individuals and corporations. The old school mindset was that fundraising is a funnel. You pour a bunch of donors in the top of the funnel and money comes out the bottom. Not only is this not a sustainable model – it’s the entirely wrong mindset. Instead, fundraising should be viewed as an iterative loop. We identify, qualify, engage, ask, steward, and continue to build the relationship over time with supporters. A one-and-done approach no longer works.

Charities must think about how they continue to move donors through this cycle over time.
Yes, we need to be good steward of our resources. We also need understand that no taking risks is the greatest risk to reaching our goals. But these can be calculated, measured, and valuable risks. It requires changing where we focus, what we measure, and how we prioritise exceeding the expectations of our staff and supporters. The second horizon prepares us for the next step up in our thinking, leading, and changing.

Horizon three

This horizon is all about the next 24 to 36 months. We are going to see capabilities like augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies shape more and more of what happens in the social good sector. The old and the new are going to continue to mix together over time. For example, traditional crowdfunding will merge with gaming to foster growth in streamraising – the ability for gamers to raise money while livestreaming gameplay. We already know organisations seeing a lot of fundraising coming from this channel and it will become much more mainstream.

What was experimental many months ago will become more acceptable for charities to implement during Horizon Three. The signs of what might work (or not) are visible today, but often take time to implement lessons learned. Consistent cross-channel communication and sequencing is no longer just the best practice, but the only real sustainable way to drive growth across fundraising programmes. Evolved organisations also begin to focus resources on mid-level donors and what is really required to have successful major donor programmes.

Today, we are starting to see more talk about the need for a more customer service focused approach to engaging with donors. Horizon Three will see a further transformation that sees donor delight come to the forefront. To be clear, this is different to the traditional donor-centric practices that charities have attempted to implement. The reality is that many donor-centric tactics are simply responding to basic supporter expectations – they rarely delight them.

Yes, we continue to focus on the day to day running of our charities, but we must also be looking to the future and how to transition there successfully. This will require changes to strategy, execution, and the tools that we use. The mindset that got us where we are is unlikely to get us where we want to go next. As more charities change how they work and their teams level up, then it will put increasing strain on organisations that resist change. There is some irony here as so many charities trying to change the world have difficulty changing themselves. But we can change. We can adapt. We can change ourselves and the world at the same time. ■

This article is sponsored by Blackbaud. To read more content from bbcon UK 2019, click here.

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