Digital is not a channel

I’ve come to realise that thinking of digital as a “channel’ doesn’t help.
The term channel suggests a route to reach someone.
In our world of fundraising the danger is it leads to asking the question “how can we target (spray) more people“?

So, for example, emails are routinely collected. Yet the fact emails are going to become more and more insignificant is already an indicator that we need to start thinking differently. I recently sent both my nephews a message on WhatsApp and Facebook respectively to let them know I had emailed them a birthday voucher!

If you think of digital as a channel you will probably think like this:

 So to get more:
You do a lot more:
And yet digital doesn’t work like that. That approach is effectively ‘spray and pray’. All it will do is irritate people. Which means they will just junk your content, or, if they can be bothered, opt out of hearing from you.
So the danger is we see, and think of, digital as the channel.
Yet I now see the channel is the person.
But even then it’s not about the direct response.
It’s about this:

The channel is about getting people talking about you. So thinking of digital as a channel is not helpful. People are the channel. If you think digital as a channel it encourages you to think ‘how can I use it to target more people?‘ – so you think in numbers, such as ‘how do we increase followers?’, or ‘how can we capture more emails?‘.

When you change your thinking to YOU are a channel, then you begin to think ‘how can we encourage you to reach others?‘. Then that puts the focus on thinking about content that people will share. Which means you need to think about them and their interests. It moves the emphasis away from targeting as many as we can (one to many) to getting you to share (many to many).

So you get this.

Imagine the above happening with each of your supporters. This harnesses the true power of digital (many to many communications). Which is what the internet has enabled.

Your organisation is a channel.

Your staff are a channel.

Your supporters are a channel. So think like this:


You need to ask: how can you get people to share and spread your story? Which begs the question: what’s your story? And of course it’s best to have a story that is consistent, which ripples out so it re-enforces the key message as people hear it from different sources. Your WHY.

Another way for people to talk about you, when you think of them as a channel, is giving a great experience – such as when people donate as then they may also talk about your mission or story too.

Human Fundraising

The irony is, in this digital world, this is human fundraising.  Telling stories, and delivering great experiences, really really well, person to person. So I think digital is great news for fundraising because we have some of the best, most emotional stories, to tell. But only if we think about it in the right way. People will respond, but just not in the highly measurable way we are accustomed to with direct marketing and many other forms of fundraising. That’s thinking of digital as a channel instead of thinking people as the channel.

And as we are all better connected, and increasingly value the opinions of people we trust, it is even more powerful to have other people spread your story. And of course you just do not know who people are connected to.

I had the fortune to hear Grant Leboff, author of Sticky Marketing, and more recently, Digital Selling, speak at a lunch with a group of fundraising directors before Christmas about “digital fundraising” hosted by Flow Caritas.  At the close in summing up the challenges he concluded “It’s not digital fundraising it’s fundraising in a digital world ” and added “that sounds like semantics but it is very different“. It started to help me think differently and see the opportunity with digital for what it is, and what it could be. I urge you do the same.

2 thoughts on “Digital is not a channel

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