How to create a digital product strategy for a charity
According to the 2022 Charity Digital Skills Report, 56% of charities in the UK are taking a strategic approach to digital. The other 44% are “starting out” or “curious” when it comes to creating and implementing a digital strategy.
Whatever stage a charity is at on their digital journey, there’s no denying that they need to be on that journey. Referring back to the Charity Digital Skills Report, 38% of charities saw an increase in demand for digital services in 2022 – a trend which has continued post-pandemic, when digital services were no less than necessity.
The starting point for most organisations when addressing their digital strategy is to improve or refresh their websites. But once this focal point is in place, more digitally-established charities will begin to look beyond towards adding more digital tools to their arsenal.
Enter digital products.
What is a digital product?
We might consider a vast range of digital innovations, tools and platforms to constitute a “digital product”. Broadly, we can define a digital product as a software-enabled product that offers some sort of utility to the user. This includes web apps (apps that are accessed through a browser), native apps (apps that are installed, accessed and used on an internet-connected device such as a smartphone), or software-as-a-service platforms (centrally hosted software accessed through the cloud, e.g. CRM, marketing automation). We’ve included some examples of charities already using their own digital products later on in the post to give you more of an idea of what’s happening with digital in the third sector.
As with anything when you’re thinking strategically, it’s not just about having something for the sake of it – it’s about how it will help your organisation and your audience achieve something. What this “something” is speaks directly to the goals or objectives of your project – we’ll get to that shortly.
Here are a few ways in which a digital product can help your charity achieve strategic goals.
- Improve internal efficiency – helping you to streamline an internal process or free up resource previously dedicated to non-automated or non-digital tasks that could be automated or made self-service.
- Bring something which is third-party now in-house – e.g. a fundraising platform or community forum. If applicable, achievable and financially viable, this can help in the long-term to reduce fees, and give you more control over platform features, data, privacy, and more flexibility around what you do with the product. e.g. fundraising platform – meaning less fees, more control (platform features, data, privacy, etc), more flexibility.
- Improve engagement with supporters – giving them more tools and channels to get involved with what you’re doing.
- Improve service for beneficiaries/users of your charity – your charity exists to serve a wider cause – creating a dedicated digital tool that serves the core purpose of your organisation can help to directly improve the lives of those who rely on and benefit from the service provided by your charity.
Examples of charities using digital products
To give you a better idea of what’s achievable, we’ve identified a few examples of charities that have developed and launched their own digital products, and how these benefit the organisations, their users and their supporters.
Note that these are digital products/platforms that appear (or we know) to have been developed and hosted by the charity themselves. Charities will likely use a plethora of third-party digital products internally and externally. Here we’re highlighting how having your own digital product can enhance your strategy.
Leukaemia UK Fundraising Events Platform
As part of our work with leading blood cancer charity Leukaemia UK, we built an integrated fundraising platform which sits within their website. It enables supporters to sign up for LUK running events, donate to existing user created events, and set up their own fundraising pages. This means that everything users need to fundraise for the charity is within one place, rather than them having to go off to third party tools like Just Giving, GoFundMe, or Facebook. Additionally, it means that Leukaemia UK avoid having to pay fees to those third-party platforms on top of payment processors.
Samaritans Self-help App
Suicide prevention and mental health charity Samaritans have a mobile app for self-help techniques. It gives you the ability to access and save techniques for grounding and calming yourself, as well as creating a “safety plan” – where you can identify people that can help you, things that give you hope, warning signs, and other things that might help you. This digital tool frees up their agents in non-emergencies, allowing them to dedicate time to urgent cases while still providing vital help to those in need.
Guide Dogs Access Issues Reporting App
It is a requirement by law in the UK that people with guide dogs are given access to taxis, shops, restaurants and other public places. In a 2022 report, Guide Dogs surveyed 242 guide dog owners, 81% of which had experienced access refusal. As a result, they’ve launched a campaign to tackle this issue, but in order to do so – they need to know when these refusals are happening. They have an app dedicated to reporting access issues, which includes a quick and simple form process, including the ability to upload optional audio evidence, and specify follow-up actions. This enables them to collect vital information on these incidents in a quick, easy and seamless way which doesn’t require monitoring emails or taking phone calls, again freeing up resources.
How to get started with a digital product strategy
Thinking about your organisation’s approach to digital products is a wide-reaching and complex process. So much so, we’ve got a whole service around it. 👋
Just to inspire you on what might be a way forward, here is a (slightly) simplified five step process to starting to develop a digital product strategy.
The process always starts with your users. User research can be as extensive or high-level as you need it to be, depending on how much you already know and how complex (or simple) their needs are.
Broadly, you should be aiming to answer the following questions:
- Who are your users? – Supporters, staff, volunteers, beneficiaries, their families?
- What are their needs? – What do they need to be able to achieve?
- How do they do this at the moment? – can they do this digitally? Is it effective?
- What problems do they experience? – is it too complex? Slow? Does a digital solution actually exist at the moment?
Once you’ve got a handle on the who, what, why and how when it comes to your users, it’s time to stress test your assumptions and build an actual strategy. You can do this with a process called a discovery sprint – a period of dedicated discussion and research around the objectives of a project. This process helps you answer some more existential questions around “why are we doing this?” and stop you getting lost in the weeds of making assumptions and internal politics.
Defining your goals
Once you’ve completed the discovery process, you should have both a high-level vision and some more specific project goals and objectives. These objectives will keep you and your team focused on why you’re doing what you’re doing. They don’t strictly have to be measurable, but it’s useful if they are – that’ll give you something to track progress against once your product is out in the world.
For example, your project objectives might look something like:
- Increase donations from digital fundraising by xx%
- Increase engagement with a particular campaign by xx%
- Reduce time spent by a particular department on manual/data entry tasks by xx%
Creating a roadmap
With your findings from your user research and your discovery process, you’ll be able to create an actual plan – a roadmap for the development, release, testing and iterative improvement of your digital product. This may involve producing a rapid prototype or minimum viable product (MVP) – an early release with key features that can be tested with actual users and then refined.
Release, improve, repeat
As I mentioned just now, the digital product lifecycle doesn’t begin – or end – when you release it into the world. Taking an iterative approach to the development process – rather than trying to solve every problem with the first release – enables you to evolve and improve over time, catering to exactly what your users want and need from the product. Testing with actual users will give you invaluable insight into potential issues and areas for improvement within the product, which you can address in future releases.
Digital products – just like any other tool, platform or process in your digital ecosystem – should exist and be used to make the lives of your users easier, whether that’s internal or external. Developing a digital product strategy is an in-depth process but doesn’t have to be complex if you have the right guidance and the right motivations behind it.
- Get our guide to solving complex business problems with digital products
- Get our guide to creating an end-to-end digital giving experience
- Access our free webinar to get tips and tactics for increasing online donations
Need some guidance with your digital strategy? We could help you find the right way forward – just get in touch for a friendly chat about how we could help.