Digital trends – CharityComms seminar, 23 March 2017

‘How charities are adapting to shifts in the digital landscape’

This recent half-day CharityComms seminar was packed with lots of great case studies and results.

I’ve Storified some of the highlights here.



Digital transformation for the charity sector; Manifesto event, 9 March 2017

One of the many good things about the charity digital world is how open people are to sharing their thoughts and experiences, often in the form of free events and presentations. One of the agencies we at Diabetes UK work with, Manifesto, runs events like these from time to time and their most recent one a couple of weeks ago was especially good.

The theme was ‘digital transformation for the charity sector’ and we heard from: Jo Wolfe, Assistant Director, Digital at Breast Cancer Care; Pat Shone, Technology Director at Manifesto; and Julie Dodd, Director of Digital Transformation & Communication at Parkinson’s UK, and author of The New Reality. Here are some of my key takeaways from what they told us.

Jo Wolfe

Maturity index
Have to measure and benchmark in the different areas. RAG not enough. Then set targets in those areas to help set strategy and plans and resources.
MSF blew her away. Team really mature. Poss because same stable team for six years

Pat Shone

– model, four phases of devt
– could look at for review and retirement too
– stat eval, weighting important
Try before you buy?

Julie Dodd

New reality
100+ days of putting theory into practice
Scale of dying out -> embracing
P not halfway to e yet but made big steps by creating her role and directorate
SMT have a WhatsApp group
Good to make people excited and a little uncomfortable
6 areas of focus – tech funding culture?? And…??
Very much both internal and external transformation – not sure I’ve seen as much/equal focus on ext in my own or other charities
Came up with a statement on what DT is for P
Longer and shorter versions
Talk about it over and over
Make it more interesting for diff audiences – diff formats, e.g. Video for trustees.
Bring in external speakers, lunch and learn etc
Digital competencies – 3? Levels – everyone has to be up to level 1 by end of this year.
Make it visible by making visual, e.g. Screen in reception, simple hack to show sessions graph, top search terms and pages visited
Things still move slowly – budget cycles
Less need to focus on digital comms, most have got a grip on that. Look more at supporting new tech, e.g. New apps devices sites – open but with critical eye, need a framework before recommending any
Digital strategy/electricity strategy
Umbrella room – again visual, prompts questions just by being there – really need to get our digital testing room in shape, whiteboard paint? Proper screens, camera and lighting.
ICO clampdown and new regs – see as an opportunity and a good thing. If we can weather the dip then it will force us to think more about our comms with supporters – more based on what they want, where we ask for data because we’ll make good use of it, promise to keep it safe. Better retention strategy. Before, we just lost people to churn.

2016 highlights – autumn – fruitful (but far from mellow. Or misty)

A final post on my highlights from 2016 and it feels like I’ve saved the busiest season till last.

Autumn 2016
– a new (work) home, events, diabetes in the media, brand changes, a VIP visit, and World Diabetes Day

Maybe because it’s fresh in my mind but autumn (and the start of the next winter) seemed especially busy this year.

Still stepping

September (and, for me, the first week or so of October too 😊) was the final month of my 1 Million Step challenge for Diabetes UK. And because I was playing catch-up, it was one of my busiest ever months for walking in my three years of tracking.

This was helped by our office move. We’d outgrown our old home of 12+ years in Camden and been priced out of an increasingly gentrified, relatively central location. The old office was less than 30 minutes’ walk from home so I tended to commute on foot. Our eventual new office in Whitechapel is about two hours’ walk away, so understandably I didn’t plan to keep to my old Tube-free ways. But for the rest of my 1 Million Steps and whenever I can since then, I get off the Tube 25/30 minutes away from the office and walk the rest. It minimises my packed commute and maximises my physical activity … and my step count.

Events – at home and away

So many excellent events at the end of last year.


NFP Tweetup

Google for Non-profits

We Are Social

Third Sector Digital Leaders

Adloox digital ad security seminar

Barcamp NFP

Charity Social CEOs

Together We’re Better – user-centred transformation seminar



2016 highlights – summer – I *did* walk 500 miles

Summer 2016
– the 1 Million Step Challenge

When I was two months in to the three-month 1 Million Step fundraising challenge that my charity, Diabetes UK, launched this summer, I blogged about my progress on the charity’s blog site and shared some tips with my fellow walkers.

I’m proud to say I did complete the challenge, though it took me an extra week or so to do it! And thanks to the generosity of my family and friends, I raised £230 – 115% of my target.

What it was like to take part

I found it interesting that, even though I had already been tracking my steps for nearly three years, and had taken part in other walking challenges in that time, something about this particular challenge really motivated me to reach the overall target of 1 million steps.It was a significant challenge, since the average UK adult is said to walk only 5,000 steps a day, and my average tended to be 7-8,000 a day.

It was a significant challenge, since the average UK adult is said to walk only 5,000 steps a day, and my average tended to be 7-8,000 a day.

Since I started step tracking in November 2013 it has motivated me to walk more than I ever did before. I find myself taking the long way around where possible, and trying to walk rather than hop on a bus or tube – to the extent that 2014 was the last year that I bought an annual season ticket and from 2015 I started walking as much as possible.

Both my Dad and his Mum had Type 2 diabetes and I know that a combination of this family history of the condition, plus our ethnicity (South Asian on that side of my family) as well as my age and gender mean that I’m at increased risk of developing the condition myself. Those are the factors I can’t change. But the factors I do have control over are my weight and waist size, so making walking part of my day seemed like a good way of reducing my risk of Type 2.

Despite all the health benefits, it can still be hard to make sure you walk 10,000 steps a day, and my average tends to be closer to 7,000. So, seeking some extra motivation, I was really happy when we at Diabetes UK launched our new 1 Million Step Challenge this summer. More cause to walk, while also fundraising for a good cause.

It takes me about 10,000 steps to cover five miles. 10,000 x 100 = 1,000,000 steps, which = five miles x 100, which = 500 miles. Hence “I will walk 500 miles” became my earworm for the summer. (Sorry for passing it on to you too.)

I had a combination of different motivations and practical steps to keep me going towards 1 million. See if any of them could work for you.

I found these practical steps helped:

  • Walk for my whole lunchbreak – and schedule these walks into my calendar so that they’re less likely to get sidelined.Combine it with reading if I’m somewhere safe to walk while reading, like a park.
  • Combine it with reading if I’m somewhere safe to walk while reading, like a park.Can also combine it with writing, if inspiration strikes – I wrote some notes for this blog post while walking in the park.
  • Can also combine it with writing, if inspiration strikes – I wrote some notes for this blog post while walking in the park.I love taking photos and Instagramming, so walking gives me more opportunities to do that.
  • I love taking photos and Instagramming, so walking gives me more opportunities to do that.I’m interested in architecture and the city I live in (London) – and there are always new places to discover.
  • I’m interested in architecture and the city I live in (London) – and there are always new places to discover.If your job permits, try having meetings while walking – a Walk-and-Talk, for those who remember The West Wing – though I must admit, I haven’t tried that one myself yet.
  • If your job permits, try having meetings while walking – a Walk-and-Talk, for those who remember The West Wing – though I must admit, I haven’t tried that one myself yet.
  • Make friends with other Fitbit/fitness tracker users – apparently on average Fitbit users walk an extra 1,000 steps a day for every Fitbit friend they have.

And I had various things to motivate me:

  • The challenge itself provided motivation – to complete a big personal goal – especially one that you have shared with lots of people.
  • Staying healthy, for me and for my family – including improving my chances of avoiding Type 2 diabetes.
  • Fundraising in memory of my Dad, for a good cause and a charity which not only employs me but has helped my family and so many others affected by all types of diabetes.
  • It’s a nice little reward when you get a 1m Step Challenge or Fitbit badge for doing a lot of steps in a day or reaching the latest equivalent distance – such as the Great Wall of China – and it helps you push on towards the next milestone.
  • And it spurs you on when you see how well other participants and Fitbit friends are doing, through the 1 Million Step Challenge website, the Fitbit app and social media.

It was so nice seeing people sharing their steps and milestones on social media. How do you motivate yourself or make walking – or any physical activity – part of your day? Please share your suggestions and experiences in the blog comments, on social media with the hashtag #1millionsteps. It would be great to hear from you.

What it was like behind the scenes

Although we don’t have a formal innovation team or group at Diabetes UK, in recent years we have tried to come up with new ways of providing support and services, and new ways of fundraising to make it possible.

Back in 2013 our then Events Fundraising Manager, Mark Fox, came up with Swim 22, a fundraising challenge where participants swim 22 miles – the equivalent to a Channel crossing – across three months in the relative comfort of their local pool.

Swim 22 has been a great success. Taking the Agile approach that I had introduced, we started with a minimum viable product in 2013 on our main website without agency involvement. Building on the success of the first year, in 2014 we worked with our agency Manifesto to build dedicated sign-up forms, a distance tracker and shareable content such as progress badges, all based on the Acquia platform.

For the 1 Million Step challenge, we were able to go from a moment of inspiration early in 2016, for an event that wasn’t even in our original plans for the year, to build and launch for 1 July. This included registration and recording functionality along with progress badges – again all through Agile, taking the decision to launch with a minimum viable product based on the Swim 22 platform and requiring very little adaptation.

It allowed us to launch another effective fundraising product, supporting our prevention and healthy lifestyle message – with minimal budget and with our comms focused online and therefore with relatively low costs. We have been able to tap into the fitness tracking trend of the past few years, provide a mass participation fundraising event with a low barrier to entry than some sporting events – requiring no specialist equipment other than a pedometer and no facilities other than a place to walk.

Despite a fairly low barrier to entry, all along I have been conscious that despite the simplicity of the concept, the step target could be offputting for people who are less able to walk, so as part of our review and plans for development, I will be advocating different levels of target reflecting different levels of ability and achievement – in the hope of starting and encouraging more people to take their first steps to positive behaviour change.


2016 highlights – spring – homegrown UX for a new homepage (and beyond…)

Continuing my review of some professional highlights from 2016.

Spring 2016
– homegrown user testing

In early 2016 we began running in-house user testing/user experience (UX) work for digital products at Diabetes UK.

We’d had some great training from David Travis at UserFocus. We also invested in some software to allow us to run testing remotely online: Optimal Workshop, which includes Optimal Sort for card-sorting exercises, and Treejack, which allows you to set tasks based on navigating through menu structures to test groupings, hierarchies and section/page names.

We also established a dedicated digital testing room at our new office when we moved in September – and had a makeshift one at our previous office in the meantime, which doubled up as our media interview recording/ISDN room. We bought one further piece of software, Morae, that allows you to track and record user behaviour when you’re doing 1-1 user testing in person.

With just some of these basic bits of kit, you could start your own DIY user testing too.

2016 highlights – winter – ‘100 things I wish I’d known about living with diabetes’

While most reviews of 2016 have understandably been dominated by negativity, I thought I’d look back ón some of my professional highlights from the year.

Winter 2016
– 100 things I wish I’d known about living with diabetes

After about nine months’ work, including one pilot run in November 2015, we launched our campaign, ‘100 things I wish I’d know about living with diabetes’, on 15 February 2016.

Crowdsourcing content

It centred around a free book of 100 tips about diabetes that we crowdsourced from people living with the condition. We asked people from our networks and at our events, but the highest proportion of tips came from supporters online. There’s a well-established diabetes online community, which Diabetes UK is an active part of, and we knew they could be relied upon to share some great tips.

But the majority of people in the online community have Type 1 diabetes or are parents of people with Type 1 and we wanted to make sure that all types of diabetes were represented in the tips – or at least the two main types. So I made sure we asked all our email subscribers for their tips too, as I knew we would be able to draw on a wider range of experiences – and again, they didn’t let us down, providing the majority of the tips that made it into the book.

Choosing 100 tips for the book

We were lucky enough to receive more than the 100 we wanted for the book – well over 1,000 in fact. Some were variations on the same tip from several different people. To try to make sure the tips would be useful and suitable to the widest range of people affected by diabetes, the final 100 were selected by our Clinical team and a panel of people living with the condition, with our Brand team facilitating and curating the selections to ensure balance.

We finally managed to whittle down to 100 for the book but selected extra tips that would be used on social media, in follow-up email journeys, in our membership magazine and in other channels. We also enlisted some of the contributors to take part the TV ads we were filming at the turn of the year, to be broadcast from 15 February.

Emails for ongoing engagement

As well as being a key source of tips, we used email to keep in touch with everyone who submitted tips, including extra comms for the selected contributors to keep them posted throughout the months-long process before the book and the campaign launched.

We also planned and created tailored email journeys for five different audience groups, for people who ordered the book and opted in to further email comms.

Testing through a pilot

Our agency, Arthur, suggested a pilot campaign, more limited in content and geographical scope but a way of testing that all of the ad formats, tracking, forms and processes were working.

Initially, I wasn’t entirely convinced this would be worthwhile because it wasn’t a completely representative pilot, and because of the limited time between pilot and full roll-out (made even shorter by the Christmas break) we wouldn’t have much time to evaluate and make improvements. We didn’t run any of the social media marketing – paid or organic – at this stage, and nor did we have the TV ad campaign to promote the book. We did have a plan B ready for social media in case people ordering the book started to share images, share the link to the order form, etc, but we didn’t need to activate it.

In the end, the pilot did prove to be really useful because it helped us iron out any final issues with the mechanics and processes for ordering the books (including SMS for callback orders, straightforward phone orders, and orders through an online form).

It also helped us to check that the triggered email journeys were working and to tweak some of the content in the emails to improve them for the full UK-wide campaign in February.

And it told us that print ads in consumer magazines were way more effective than digital display ads, so we could adjust the media placement for the main roll-out.

But one thing the pilot didn’t prepare us for was quite how much a TV ad campaign, launching in primetime, would increase responses.

An overwhelming response

It was planned to be a four-week TV ad campaign, and with even the most optimistic estimates from our agency, based on outperforming top campaigns with other similar clients, we did a single print-run of the books we felt would comfortably cover the demand and leave a buffer of extra copies.

The pilot, with its more limited reach, followed the expected pattern.

When the TV ad launched during a primetime ITV soap on Monday 15 February, we saw unprecedented demand and took enough orders in the first week to use up all remaining stock.

This meant another print run, a curtailing of the TV ad campaign by about half, and acceleration of redeveloping the order form to include a PDF ebook option (which was orginally planned for the very end of the campaign).

Meeting a genuine need with authentic content

As well as the TV ads, the success of the campaign was also thanks to the authenticity of the crowdsourced content – real, often surprising, tips about living with a lifelong condition, all by people living with that condition themselves – and the genuine usefulness of the tips.

It got a great reaction on social media and elsewhere, with countless positive comments (some of which are captured in this Storify), higher-than-average engagement rates with our follow-up emails (helped by being very tailored to the different audience groups), and very few complaints, even when there were delays because of needing such a rapid reprint. We even spotted a copy on sale on eBay at one point!

It’s a campaign that I was proud to lead the digital comms for, one that I worked on in some form during pretty much every day in the nine months or so leading up to the full launch and which in recent months I’ve also spent time evaluating and planning next steps for.

I was also proud when the campaign won a Gold award and two Bronze awards at the DMA Awards in the autumn.

Diabetes UK won gold for the best healthcare campaign .

We also won two bronze awards, for best integrated campaign and best customer acquisition campaign.

Barcamp NFP Half-dayer, November 2016

Last month I was happy to be able to host Barcamp NFP at Diabetes UK’s new home, Wells Lawrence House in Whitechapel.

It was a half-day version of a free, volunteer-run event that I have been involved in since it launched about five years ago. It’s currently led by the ex-head of digital at BHF and Unicef UK, Laila Takeh.

It’s an ‘unconference’ – an event where you turn up with ideas and questions about your work or things you want to learn about, but with no pre-planned agenda. People volunteer to run sessions and the group then agrees which sessions they want to be part of and we build a schedule for the day.


I led a session on ways of using Agile in your work, not just for technical devt but also basing your work on user needs and taking an iterative approach. My colleague Amy ran a session on digital transformation and the great work she’s doing to help make digital more of a mainstream part of what we do. Including making the media wall in our new Town Hall space work smoothly! 🙂

I attended a useful session on defining and making sense of digital engagement metrics. The holy grail is coming up with something that is really useful and helps us to reach and connect more people, and get more support. We talked about ideas for a clearer, more consistent set of metrics, their relative value, how to compare your performance over time and with peers/competitors, and how best to report and act on what you see – all in a way that non-Digital and non-Marketing people can also appreciate. I took away lots of new ideas, and the reassuring feeling that we do a lot of good things already.

We had a wide-ranging session on sharing among charities. Part of the Barcamp ethos is that it’s open to charities big or small, as well as individual activists. We talked about examples of sharing knowledge, content, tech and other resources. I made the point that we put people first but that, when a person has multiple conditions or other needs, they’re often dealing with a separate organisation or service supporting each condition and it would help that person more if we could find a more integrated, shared approach. It also struck me that bigger charities like ours have often done (and, crucially, paid for) bits of work that could serve as a model or template for smaller charities, with little or no funds, to save them reinventing the wheel. And of course we can do things like provide our brilliant venue and hospitality to make sure events like Barcamp NFP continue to help us all to help more people.