Interview with James Appleyard, CEO & Chairman, Artez Interactive
Originally published in CharityVillage.com on June 29, 2012
Once upon a time, citizen fundraisers took to the streets with clipboards and pledge forms to cajole friends, family, neighbours and strangers to support their favourite causes.
Today, we're still asking the people we know for money - we've just swapped the papers and pens for online tools and social media sites. In fact, research conducted by Ipsos Reid andArtez Interactive found that the most common way donors engage with a charity for the first time is after a friend or family member asks them to make a charitable gift - and more than a third of those gifts are given online.
Canadians are ravenous users of social media - with Facebook leading the pack in popularity with over15,000,000 active users. Twenty percent of Canadians are now on Twitter, too, and LinkedIn users have more than doubled in the last three years.
Throw mobile use into the mix - over three quarters of Canadian households own a cellphone and smartphones now hold 40% of the mobile market share - and you've got very compelling evidence for including an online and social component to any fundraising strategy.
CharityVillage spoke with James Appleyard, CEO of Artez Interactive, about the latest trends in the online giving, how nonprofits can keep up with ever-changing technologies and how to make online tools work for you.
CharityVillage: What online tools or social channels have you found to be most popular?
James Appleyard: I think we're living through a period of tremendous change. When we started building our technology 10 years ago, it was all about using email and websites. In 2012, about 30% of all the referrals to our application are from Facebook. It's an incredible trend. We all know people are spending a great deal of time on Facebook, and they're interacting with each other and asking for support. And then they're coming out of Facebook and into our application and completing donations in support of charities.
A few years ago, we noticed that people were attempting to make donations on our system from smartphones and several years ago, it was impossible. Today, more than 10% of all the traffic on our servers comes from smartphones - and we see that trend continuing.
Another really interesting insight is that when people use multiple technology channels to fundraise, they actually raise two and a half times as much money as people who only do it from their desktop computers. It's an amazing effect. Why does that happen? Because they're continually updating their social networks, they're asking more people for money, and they're interacting with a fundraising page that they've set up themselves. By doing that, often they raise much, much more money for charities.
CV: Are you seeing any particular demographic trends of online giving through various channels?
JA: Where demographic information is being collected, what we're seeing is people of all ages. People might imagine it's only young people who are fundraising through Facebook, but that's not the case. People of all ages are using Facebook in order to fundraise, and they're also using these devices on the fly, because everyone's living busy lives. The penetration of these devices into the marketplace has been so rapid, and they've been so transformational to people's lives, that they're bringing those devices into their fundraising.
CV: Is there a difference in the amount of monetary gifts on a mobile device versus someone giving online or sending in a cheque?
JA: The reality is that mobile gifts are approximately the same size as gifts that are made online via a computer. They might be slightly larger or slightly smaller, but on average they're just the same size as other gifts. And so the size of those gifts will depend on the campaign and the kind of donors who are being targeted. Online gifts are actually a bit larger than offline gifts.
CV: What are some of the trends that you anticipate in mobile and online giving in the next three years?
JA: I can see at least a couple of things ahead. One of them is that charities are going to need to be increasingly creative about how to use these multiple channels to keep fundraisers loyal. One of the ways they're going to need to do that is by coming up with campaigns that are interesting and innovative. They're really going to have to put on their creative hats and think about ways to engage fundraisers differently. I think there's going to be amazing innovation coming from the sector. We're already seeing it, but I think we're going to be seeing even more.
The other thing we'll see is that fundraising in social channels will increasingly diversify across the various social channels that exist. I suspect we'll see people fundraising via their professional networks on LinkedIn, their more personal networks on Facebook, and people they interact with more loosely on Twitter.
CV: Is the technology changing so quickly that it will be hard for nonprofits to keep up?
I think it is hard for some charities to keep up, and that's why it's really important for charities to have trusted partners who can help them to get there. Charities have so many pressures and demands to deliver programs and appeal to fundraisers and donors, so when they also try to deliver on all these technology channels, it can be very challenging and expensive. Partnerships with trusted organizations are more important now than they ever were.
CV: When you have limited funding resources, how can nonprofits decide how to spend them online?
JA: I think the right approach for most organizations is to test the waters before diving in and discovering that you can't touch the bottom. Try things and see what works. That isn't meant to be a recipe for being timid; it's a recipe for being thoughtful about testing and then building on what's working. None of us know what's going to be a roaring success and what is going to fail before we actually start doing it. Charities need to try things and be open to learning by failing, and also through succeeding.
CV: How can nonprofits determine which online tools are going to work for them?
It's not wise to make a bet on just one approach. People have so much choice they want to move between these channels freely. It's important to treat all these digital channels like one big way of approaching the internet, rather than saying, 'I'm just going to go down this one road because that's the one that I feel most safe with'. That's why we really recommend a multi-channel approach to the internet.
Today, it's a riskier choice to put all your eggs in one basket than it is to spread across several of them.
CV: With all of these technological tools, what principles of fundraising are staying the same?
JA: What charities have learned in the past still has tremendous value in terms of understanding what their donors are interested in, what they want to learn and how they want to engage. It's not like those lessons go out the window just because you're online - they have great value when making the shift. Potentially, online channels make it a little easier to reach new donors and supporters that you may not have been able to reach before.
CV: What do you say to nonprofits who say that their donors are not online, or have a resistance to or fear of the online space?
JA: If an organization is under the impression that their donors are not online, they should probably continually examine that assumption, because more of the population is moving online to spend their time there, and that applies to every demographic group. In order to be sustainable, organizations need to reach new audiences and one of the ways to do that is by operating online. That doesn't mean giving up on the things that have worked in the past, to stop doing what works would be a ridiculous and risky thing to do. It 's about shifting some of the emphasis into online channels in order to learn, try new things and start building new relationships.
CV: What really excites you about online giving?
JA: One of the most powerful aspects is just how many connections all of us have through our various worlds that we live in - our working world, people we went to school with, our close friends, and our acquaintances - and how many of those connections can be reached when we feel passionate about a cause. Being able to reach potentially dozens or even hundreds of people in order to make an ask is going to mean that I can potentially raise more money. To me, that's the most important thing.
Canadian charities are doing very interesting things that we should be proud of in terms of online fundraising. We should also be looking to what people in other countries are doing, because there are some really interesting models out there that we're not really tapping into here.
For example, one Artez client is the Children's Health Foundation Queensland, in Brisbane Australia. CHFQ runs an event called Everest Virtual Challenge which allows corporate teams to "virtually" climb Mount Everest by counting the steps they take in daily life and through exercise, and fundraise for sick kids while they do so. It's a fun event, without the risks of an actual mountain climb. It's also low cost to run, and engages audiences in different ways from traditional events. In terms of fundraising success, this event has grown every year since it was launched.
The world has a lot to learn from Canadian fundraisers, and Canadian fundraisers have a lot to learn from the rest of the world. It's a really exciting time to be a digital fundraiser.