Digi­tal from 0 to 1

Digitalisation is more than just a donation button.

‘Whether NFTs remain or not isn’t really important,’ says Michael Harr. The Mana­ging Direc­tor of Pro Senec­tute beider Basel (PSBB) adds: ‘The tech­no­logy is there. And we want to seriously engage with this issue.’ Two years ago, PSBB laun­ched a fund­rai­sing campaign with non-fungi­ble tokens, or NFTs for short. NFTs are digi­tal works of art, images, videos and more. Every item is unique and cannot be chan­ged because it is stored decen­trally on the block­chain. PSBB has put more than 4,000 NFTs up for sale as part of its ‘Swiss Crypto Marvels’ campaign. Each item costs 66 Swiss francs. The NFTs are land­scape photo­graphs of Switz­er­land, supple­men­ted by a futu­ristic object. Like Pro Senec­tute, they repre­sent both consis­tency and change for Michael Harr. The aim of the campaign was: ‘We wanted to gene­rate dona­ti­ons to buy land in the meta­verse,’ he says. The meta­verse is a digi­tal space enhan­ced with virtual reality. The funds for purcha­sing land in the digi­tal world were not to come from exis­ting dona­tion pots. PSBB was keen to avoid any criti­cism that money was being wasted on a digi­tal gimmick. They were looking for a dona­tion idea that wouldn’t eat into exis­ting acti­vi­ties. With the Swiss Crypto Marvels, PSBB wanted to target new donors. ‘No one had done it before,’ says Michael Harr, explai­ning the moti­va­tion to try it out. The acti­vity was desi­gned as a digi­tal project from start to finish: a digi­tal dona­tion chan­nel for a project in the digi­tal space.

Dona­ti­ons in cryptocurrency

Digi­tal chan­nels offer orga­ni­sa­ti­ons looking for dona­ti­ons a wide range of new oppor­tu­ni­ties. And their importance is incre­asing. The 2023 Zewo dona­tion report found that in 2022, for the first time, 10 per cent of dona­ti­ons went through direct digi­tal chan­nels, with 80 per cent of all digi­tal dona­ti­ons made via TWINT. Cryp­to­cur­ren­cies are not mentioned.

‘Eighty per cent of all digi­tal dona­ti­ons were made via TWINT.’

Zewo dona­tion report 2023

Various orga­ni­sa­ti­ons now offer the oppor­tu­nity to donate Bitcoin, Ethe­reum and others. SOS Children’s Villa­ges Switz­er­land is one of these. The foun­da­tion has made it possi­ble to support them in this way since summer 2020. The new chan­nel was accepted without any problems. Head of Commu­ni­ca­ti­ons Corne­lia Krämer says: ‘The feed­back – both nega­tive and posi­tive – was limi­ted.’ The volume of cryp­to­cur­ren­cies dona­ted varies from year to year. Indi­vi­dual dona­ti­ons also range from 50 Swiss francs to 1,500 francs. The maxi­mum amount that can be dona­ted is 4,000 francs per dona­tion. The reason for using this chan­nel was the desire to attract new donors. ‘As an inno­va­tive NGO, we were looking for new ways to enable dona­ti­ons and, for exam­ple, to offer a youn­ger target group an easy way to donate,’ she says. The expe­ri­ence has been posi­tive. It turned out that the hand­ling of cryp­to­cur­ren­cies does not pose a parti­cu­lar chall­enge for SOS Children’s Villa­ges. ‘Working with expe­ri­en­ced part­ners such as Coinify and Data­trans makes it very easy for us. The proces­ses are estab­lished and auto­ma­ted,’ she says. The cryp­to­cur­ren­cies are conver­ted into Swiss francs by these part­ners and trans­fer­red to SOS Children’s Villages.

Smart use of digi­tal fundraising

Michael Harr is also satis­fied with the feed­back. ‘The outward appeal was very posi­tive,’ he says. But the campaign also set a lot in motion intern­ally. It became clear that the inter­nal discus­sions were extre­mely serious. Employees were much more invol­ved than if the meta­verse had only been discus­sed within a working group. Michael Harr and others saw this enga­ge­ment with digi­tal possi­bi­li­ties as a key reason to carry out the campaign, even if he is quite ambi­va­lent about digi­ta­li­sa­tion. He descri­bes it as both a bles­sing and a curse – espe­ci­ally for the target group of Pro Senec­tute. It can isolate people if the digi­tal tools are too diffi­cult for them to master. At the same time, digi­ta­li­sa­tion offers new commu­ni­ca­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties; for exam­ple, Whats­App makes it easier for older people with redu­ced mobi­lity to keep in touch. In any case, it is important for Michael Harr to seriously engage with the issue. The fact that he rates the NFT campaign posi­tively on the whole certainly also has to do with the fact that the objec­tive was achie­ved. They haven’t yet been able to sell all 4,000 NFTs – some are still for sale – but they hadn’t really expec­ted to. The proceeds have still been enough to buy land in the meta­verse. It was clear to him that this goal would only be achie­va­ble with suffi­ci­ent commu­ni­ca­tion. PSBB used an influen­cer for this purpose. Marcus Händel from Visit Switz­er­land shared the campaign with his more than 800,000 follo­wers on Insta­gram. Acti­vi­ties such as these demons­trate the poten­tial of digi­ta­li­sa­tion for fund­rai­sing. They show that they depend on good commu­ni­ca­tion when used cleverly. Digi­ta­li­sa­tion of fund­rai­sing is not limi­ted to instal­ling a dona­tion button on your own website. Successful campaigns can pick up on the channel’s parti­cu­lar charac­te­ristics and play around with them chee­kily, just like WWF Turkey’s #Last­Sel­fie campaign did. The orga­ni­sa­tion used the social media plat­form Snap­chat, whose special feature is that pictures are sent and then auto­ma­ti­cally dele­ted after a few seconds. Thus, this parti­cu­lar charac­te­ristic of the chan­nel was skilfully combi­ned with the message of endan­ge­red animal breeds – a final picture before they disappear. 

‘Online and offline opti­ons need to be combi­ned as best possible.’

Mela­nie Roth, Swissaid

A digi­tal puzzle

Despite inno­va­tive approa­ches and the variety of oppor­tu­ni­ties, the findings of the NPO Survey 2022 conduc­ted by the Zewo Foun­da­tion show that there is still poten­tial in the digi­tal sector. Aid orga­ni­sa­ti­ons still attach little importance to digi­tal tools when it comes to fund­rai­sing. But their signi­fi­cance is incre­asing. And one in two aid orga­ni­sa­ti­ons is alre­ady using them, gaining some initial expe­ri­ence. ‘The chall­enge is to think consis­t­ently in a networked way from the outset and thus to opti­mally combine online and offline opti­ons,’ says Mela­nie Roth, who is respon­si­ble for online fund­rai­sing and online marke­ting at Swis­said. Although digi­tal chan­nels are, as yet, of minor importance to them when it comes to reve­nue, it’s growing. ‘In addi­tion, digi­tal chan­nels are beco­ming incre­asingly important both in the tradi­tio­nal offline chan­nels of public fund­rai­sing and in indi­vi­dual fund­rai­sing,’ she says. During the pande­mic, Swis­said laun­ched a digi­tal puzzle plat­form to offer the commu­nity new oppor­tu­ni­ties to get invol­ved. For exam­ple, it meant that school clas­ses that had been selling Swis­said badges on the street for 80 years were able to coll­ect dona­ti­ons even during the pande­mic. ‘From the outset, we desi­gned and deve­lo­ped the tool in such a way that it also works for private indi­vi­du­als or groups as a dona­tion tool for their own campaigns.’ The plat­form can be used to launch a fund­rai­sing campaign for a Swis­said project. The closer you get to your dona­tion goal, the more pieces of the puzzle are put toge­ther. The response was mixed. ‘At the begin­ning, we were able to win over a dozen schools,’ she says. Howe­ver, getting a constant stream of school clas­ses – and private indi­vi­du­als – to take part proved to be a chall­enge.
On the other hand, the tool was parti­cu­larly wort­hwhile for Swissaid’s own acti­vi­ties: the orga­ni­sa­tion has always reached its own dona­tion targets. ‘We are convin­ced that its poten­tial has not yet been exhaus­ted. Above all, with better and more targe­ted adver­ti­sing, we could achieve an even grea­ter response to the offer,’ she says.

‘They were looking for a dona­tion idea that wouldn’t eat into their exis­ting activities.’

Michael Harr, Pro Senec­tute beider Basel

Low-thres­hold access

Michael Harr also sees poten­tial in commu­ni­ca­tion. The PSBB seems to have taken care to ensure low-thres­hold access, with an expl­ana­tory video on a special landing page. Nevert­hel­ess, ‘We would like to commu­ni­cate digi­tally even more than we do now,’ he says. Mela­nie Roth says: ‘Adver­ti­sing is abso­lut­ely key, whether it’s for private indi­vi­du­als, schools or your own fund­rai­sing campaign. The campaign must be publi­cised, whether among friends, on social media or among donors.’ An accu­rate message is important. The aim of the fund­rai­sing campaign must be stated simply and clearly. That’s why Swis­said offers a handful of speci­fic projects to choose from. Even though the invol­vement of the commu­nity is not yet very important, Mela­nie Roth is convin­ced that we will see parti­ci­pa­tory deve­lo­p­ment. Parti­cu­larly owing to the lack of oppor­tu­ni­ties to donate on social media chan­nels. ‘In Switz­er­land, we’ve been waiting in vain for the dona­tion func­tion on the Meta plat­forms. If Meta swit­ches these off again in the rest of Europe in the middle of the year, it’ll be even further off for us,’ she says. The fact that fund­rai­sing orga­ni­sa­ti­ons allow their commu­ni­ties to launch their own campaigns on inde­pen­dent plat­forms could become incre­asingly important for this reason, too.

Give it a try

With the NFT campaign, PSBB has chosen its own dona­tion chan­nel. It is consis­tent that the fund­rai­sing campaign is coor­di­na­ted with the fund­rai­sing goal and the entire project. After all, the land purchase did not spell the end of the project. Now the concept for the use of the piece of virtual land is on the agenda. ‘We foun­ded the “meta­verse expe­ri­men­tal­la­bor” [meta­verse expe­ri­men­tal lab] pilot group for this purpose,’ says Michael Harr. The aim is for the target group to make the decis­i­ons. And so six older people were selec­ted for the group. They were able to move around in the meta­verse. The idea was they should see for them­sel­ves what it was all about. They then had to decide what to do with the land. The solu­tion was deve­lo­ped in a playful approach in seve­ral work­shops: in the digi­tal meta­verse, a travel service is being crea­ted for older people with limi­ted mobi­lity. Michael Harr is aware that this does not suit ever­yone; that there are older people who struggle with wearing virtual-reality head­sets in order to dive into the meta­verse. As he puts it: ‘Our services are never for ever­yone. But for some, they’re a good fit.’ He does not accept the fact that it does not work for some as an argu­ment not to deve­lop it for others. He’s alre­ady talking to foun­da­ti­ons about finan­cing it. He wants to roll out the project in seve­ral reti­re­ment homes by 2025. There will also be a scien­ti­fic study going on in the back­ground. After all, it may have star­ted out as a visio­nary project, but the results have to be properly evalua­ted. ‘We’ll see whether the meta­verse is a rele­vant oppor­tu­nity for older people to expe­ri­ence acti­vi­ties,’ says Michael Harr. ‘You just have to try it out.’

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