Barnardos Ireland – Taking a Strategic, Organisation-wide Approach to Digital

19th April by Jo Hastie

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Mary Gamble is Director of Fundraising, Marketing and Communications at Barnardo's Ireland and has led the development of a thriving digital programme.

Mary is well known as an exceptional leader and has a career spanning over 20 years in the charity sector in UK and Ireland.

We are delighted that she is joining us as a speaker at our Digital Futures Masterclass in Dublin on Friday 6th May. Ahead of that event we asked Mary to reflect on the opportunities and challenges of digital to transform your fundraising and marketing.

Mary Gamble photo

Can you tell us about your work at Barnardos and your digital programme?

Barnardos began exploring digital fundraising in 2018, revamping our Facebook page and social media platforms and focusing on impact stories and public engagement. We now do considerable amounts of digital fundraising and communications using social media, but also a significant email engagement series. We’ve also started using much more innovative ways of contacting donors bringing in Barnardos service delivery staff – those working on the frontline with children - onboard as well. Previously it was very much behind the scenes staff contacting donors, but now we have frontline staff delivering webinars to the sector and creating video messages addressing donors directly.

We are focused on bringing the entire organisation on a digital journey, not just the fundraising and communications team.

How has the last two years over the pandemic affected the programme?

With all the groundwork already in place, in March 2020 we found ourselves in a good place - we had already seen a significant success and an increase in funds in 2019. So, from a skills and resourcing perspective, we were perfectly positioned to increase our digital fundraising activity.

Our experienced fundraising team were able to pivot very quickly to engaging support through our digital channels. One of the most important things we had to ensure was that there was a clear line of communications between frontline staff and our fundraising and communications team because due to lockdown restrictions, we couldn't get support teams to frontline services anymore. But staff could send us their stories, their videos, that image of a bus being packed full of food to go out to deliver to families... And we got people who wanted to help immediately which puts us in a great position to help families, including some who'd never come on our radar before. We ensured that Barnardos was very relevant in the public discourse throughout COVID, pushing us to the forefront of people’s minds.

It was a transformational journey for everyone. Our frontline staff also had to become very adept at using digital equipment (with donations from our corporate partners – prior to the pandemic our 41 centres only had one laptop each!). Not seeing the children wasn't an option so we went out and did doorstep visits, delivered food parcels and had storytime over iPads; we needed the children to know that we haven't forgotten them and would still be there for them every day, despite a raging pandemic.

What are the opportunities and challenges of digital for the charity sector?

Digital provides us the opportunity to get these frontline stories out to the public in a way we could never have done before. I’m an old fashioned fundraiser; I started in the sector 23 years ago on the streets of London doing face to face fundraising - literally talking to people to tell them about the impact their donation could have. I never thought in a million years that we could do the same thing through a screen and reach so many more people. That’s what's really exciting and, for me, a privilege to share these stories of the amazing work Barnardos staff are doing.

One of the challenges of digital is that you do need to have good communicators; you need to be able to tell a story well and you need a good team that has the right skills and experience. It’s not good enough to stick a story with an accompanying image out or send an email once in a blue moon; it's the consistency that really plays an important part in good digital fundraising and good digital communications. You want people to expect and enjoy receiving communications from your charity. 

We spent a lot of time building up the Barnardos brand in that way, ensuring our communications aren't all about an ask or photos of people with giant cheques. We tell behind the scenes stories about the children we work with and the transformational magic that happens in Barnardos putting children on a completely different trajectory and outcomes in life. We’ve worked really hard to build up that engagement where people are looking forward to hearing from us. That’s what made us in a really great position to leap off into digital when we needed to, but it does takes consistency; gone are the days of digital fundraising being an add-on. It has to be an integrated part of your work and in everything you do if you're going to do it well, with the resources allocated to it that you need.

That is definitely something we need to grasp as a sector going forward – from fundraisers to CEOs. It’s great to see that some organisations already doing that and there are so many new ideas and creativity to share in the sector. The AAW masterclass is going to provide a great space to have that conversation.

AAW’s Free Digital Masterclass will take place in Dublin on Friday 6th May. If you would like to be put on our guest list, please email jane@aawpartnership.com.