09 Oct 2018

VIEWS: Marathon, Not A Sprint - How Agencies Can Be More Helpful To Charities

This article was originally featured in Mediapost 

When it comes around to awards season, agencies and brands are keen to prove they are doing "good." Having a "Brand Purpose" is the holy grail, and we’re all looking at ways to find our niche.

As well as supporting one-off, short-term unskilled volunteering opportunities for team volunteering days, our industry has a responsibility to make sure we are doing the most with the skills we have to help the small and medium-sized charitable organisations we partner with.

Most large brands and agencies have corporate initiatives that focus on unskilled volunteering. These companies and individuals should all be applauded for making the effort and contributing the time to give back to the societies they operate in or causes they are affected by.

But something we overlook time and again in this digital world is that the people and organisations we are trying to help through monetary or time contributions could benefit (arguably more) in the long run from the very skills we have at our fingertips. It’s time to embrace skilled volunteering.

The marketing and advertising industry is firmly part of the digital economy, with the rate of digital marketing spend growing relentlessly year-on-year. The IPA’s recent Bellwether report saw marketers increase their forecasts for digital media spend yet again.

But it's important to remember that the industries we work with or which are auxiliary to ours are not yet as skilled as us when it comes to digital. This is especially true when it comes to using data to understand audiences and how to engage their audiences meaningfully to take action -- whether donating more money or changing their behaviour.

With our partner Global Giving, we asked 100 small and medium-sized charities based in 16 countries around the world how they felt about their organisations’ use of data -- arguably the biggest driving force of change in the digital economy today -- to determine whether they felt equipped to deal with the challenges of today and keep pace with new advancements, or whether they were missing out on opportunities and risked getting left behind in the digital economy. You can view the full report here

Specifically, when it came to data, we found that 92% of charities value the importance of data in marcomms in the digital economy, yet only 11% say they are fluent in the language of data. And a staggering 83% of charities have not accessed any outside support to help them bridge the skills gap they identify in their own organisations.

Only 35% of charities agree that technological developments will offer opportunities in the next 5-10 years. If the majority of charities don’t yet feel prepared for the potential change afforded by digital skills, the disadvantaged groups that these charities support are disproportionately more likely to also struggle with the pace of technological change.

Therefore, equipping charitable organisations with the skills, knowledge and tools to exploit the digital economy opportunity would not just benefit these organisations, but have a wider multiplier effect in society.

As a marketing and advertising industry, we can make a valuable contribution and should consider engaging with these organisations through the sharing of thought leadership and pro bono support.

It’s important for us to provide opportunities for our people to take part in skilled volunteering, and that we are sharing insights and thought leadership on data in communications with our charity partners. And crucially, that we start to embed a culture of volunteering to develop our people’s skills to help society.

On the flip side, when it comes to the "good" campaigns we create for our clients, we also need to make sure that our house is in order when it comes to measuring the campaign’s effectiveness over a longer period of time.

We conducted research earlier in the year, which found that 60% of "purposeful" marketing campaigns do not go on to measure the societal impact as part of their campaign KPIs. Arguably, we need to make sure we are understanding how best to measure and use data to our advantage to ensure that CSR campaigns are not at risk from turning into just lip-service campaigns.

When it comes to doing that half marathon in aid of charity, make sure to boss it, because fundraising is incredibly important to sustaining the amazing work charities do.

But alongside those valiant efforts, it’s worth thinking strategically about whether your organisation is well equipped to help local charities learn the skills they need to compete in the digital world and bridge that knowledge gap.

If we can help them function better in the digital space by helping them acquire the skills we so often take for granted, we will be investing in the future of our communities -- and that’s a personal best we should all be striving for.

Written by Jo Rigby, Global Head of New Business and Marketing