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Macmillan rises to digital transformation challenge

How Macmillan has risen to the charity sector's digital experience challenge


So reliant on face-to-face interactions, non-profits have suffered during the Covid pandemic. But one charity has taken digital in its stride.

6th Aug 2021
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Engaging with the public effectively is paramount for charity and non-profit organisations to secure support and donations. However, as an industry that has relied heavily on face-to-face interactions with customers for fundraising, creating seamless online experiences has been challenging.

The pandemic has further highlighted the importance of being able to work and provide services digitally, which for some in the third sector has been a challenging shift. In fact, the Charity Digital Skills Report 2020, found that over half (51%) of UK charities did not have a digital strategy in place, with the main obstacles to digital transformation for charities being lack of funding and lack of digital skills.

While the pandemic may have brought additional challenges to the third sector when it comes to digital transformation, it also presents a huge opportunity to improve online experiences for donors and supporters, and at pace.

So what can the third sector do to embrace digital transformation projects and ensure their charity brand can prosper in an increasingly digital society? Here we share key insights from Macmillan Cancer Support, one of largest charities in Britain, as provided by its digital director Richard Dodd, on how they developed the organisation’s digital transformation journey. 

Digital transformation during the pandemic

When the pandemic hit, organisations across all sectors were forced to speed up their digital transformation efforts, and in many cases, switch to an online-only approach for the first time. The non-profit sector has been no different, with many finding ways to continue to engage with the public online and ensure donations can be made, and support given, digitally.

At the onset of the pandemic, Macmillan had already embarked on its digital transformation journey, so having the tools, people and processes in place quickly enabled agile working - a key part of empowering Macmillan staff to deliver superior outcomes and user-driven benefits online. Through its partnership with Sitecore, Macmillan was able to rapidly respond to the pandemic by creating a Coronavirus hub where people living with cancer can get support and guidance online through personalised content. Having access to the technology meant that Macmillan was able to create the hub in a week rather than the usual month required.

Going forward, this increased focus on digital transformation will inevitably continue. The pandemic has shown that it is possible to onboard new technology quickly and make investment into digital services, and that won’t stop now. Once the foundations of a digital strategy are in place, adapting to future requirements – no matter how sudden – is far easier.

Fighting misinformation was a key part of Macmillan's digital strategy during the early phases of the pandemic

Start small, then scale

One of the main challenges’ charities face when looking to transform online experiences is having the skills in place needed to analyse data and use the insights to enhance the user experience. In fact, the Charity Digital Skills Report 2020 found that 60% of staff have low skills in AI, while 88% are poor at using, managing and analysing data. However, two thirds of charities want to get more from their data. So, in order to start making the most of what online marketing has to offer and provide better user experience online, it’s important to start small.

Choose a few key areas, aligned to business priorities, that could benefit most from better data analysis – it could be understanding where most users drop off in the journey to making a donation, or which platforms users prefer to use. For example, Macmillan, looked at key metrics like click-through, engagement, and bounce rates when monitoring user engagement to get valuable insight for improving the user journey.

By starting small and learning what works, charities can then scale this formula across other areas. When Macmillan knew it was time to revamp its whole digital estate, it started re-platforming the website onto Sitecore’s digital experience management system on an ‘audience by audience, need by need’ basis, with the eventual goal of decommissioning the old site and operating on a single CMS.

See the value of personalisation

As consumers interacting with brands or organisations, we’ve not come to expect the experience is tailored to our individual wants and needs. For charities, this is particularly important, as it means offering valuable information and resources to users on an individual basis, based on an illness they may have, or a service they require.

Enabling each site user to create a personalised account can be an effective way to ensure the resources they access are right for their needs. Macmillan has done exactly that, by introducing an authentication and registration system to provide users both with an account and their own personalised dashboard, which includes access to tailored, curated content. This account also acts as a launch pad to an online community group. People can access the website at diagnosis stage, and it’s designed to guide them through everything they need to know, allowing them access to all of the emotional, practical and information-based support they need throughout their journey.

Being able to offer this level of personalised curated content for website users, relies on the ability to collect and analyse data. Once this foundation is in place, it’s possible to be more dynamic in the approach to personalisation.

MacMillan's Digital Storytelling Project has been an important launch during the pandemic

Focus on ease of use

As a charity looking to enhance its online presence, ease of use is another key area to consider. Making it as easy and intuitive as possible for visitors to make donations, register for events or find more information about campaigns is important, especially as we now have higher expectations about how convenient online experiences should be – and are less tolerant when they aren’t.

Macmillan has revamped and re-platformed its Fundraise and Donate websites to do just that, and has plans to update its full fundraising web portfolio which includes initiatives like World's Biggest Coffee Morning, Brave the Shave, Longest Day Golf and Mighty Hikes. The charity is also developing a new Donate platform which will deliver improved user experience, design and updated digital content, as well as payment gateway integration and evolved payment methods such as Apple Pay and Google Pay.

The digital future of the third sector

Any digital transformation programme in the third sector should be undertaken with the goal of bringing benefits to end users – making experiences more relevant and intuitive for those who want to donate to charity, or who need access to information that could be critical for their condition. Macmillan’s digital evolution, from retooling its tech stack, through to enabling personalised experiences and simplifying the donation process online has done just that.

Ultimately, the project has allowed the charity to both quickly respond to the pandemic, and launch new services to benefit its core audiences. These learnings should serve as encouragement and proof to others just starting out on their digital transformation journeys that their efforts will not be in vain and the return on investment is well within reach.

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