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A post by
Tim Bleasdale
February 2, 2024

What does digital transformation mean to the charity sector?

Q+A with Martin Campbell - VP of Marketing, World Vision Canada

What does digital transformation mean to the charity sector?

A post by
Tim Bleasdale
February 2, 2024
min read

Good product design thinking can improve digital businesses in all industries. We have invited one of our clients to talk about the challenges they face within the charity sector, and how a focus on digital products is playing a part in their business development.

Interview date:
18th December 2023

Martin Campbell - VP Marketing, World Vision Canada 
Tim Bleasdale - Executive Creative Director, Ostmodern
Ilayda Karagöl - User Researcher, Ostmodern 

Ostmodern: Hi. I'm Tim. I'm Executive Creative Director of Ostmodern, and I'm here with Ilayda, who's a UX Researcher and we are talking to Martin Campbell who is Marketing VP at World Vision Canada. Nice to see you Martin and thanks again for joining our first Q&A session. 

Can you tell us a little bit about World Vision, yourself, and a glimpse of your role…

Martin: Absolutely, World Vision globally is a relief development and advocacy organisation working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice.

And as for me, throughout my career as an entrepreneur, I've been working on better ways for people to connect with the causes they care about, helping people to have the impact that they want to have on the world.

And here at World Vision Canada, I focus on creating new ways for us to show up for supporters and new tools to help supporters have a real impact on the world.

What are your favourite aspects of working at a non-profit organisation such as World Vision?

Martin: Well, I would say non -profits is a really interesting label.

You might as well say we're a non-financial services organisation or a non-automotive organisation. We tend to go by the idea that we're a for impact business.

We’re in the business of helping the world's most vulnerable children get a better life than they currently can and that means improving education, healthcare, and food security beyond where they would get to otherwise.

That's how we measure real impact. And for me, that real impact is my favourite part. When you see children learning new skills at school, or you see a community celebrating the harvest that they've achieved with a solar well, that impact just comes to life. And not just in the numbers;  in the real reaction of the people whose lives are changed for the better.

I've been lucky enough to see some of that first hand, and meet the people closest to that impact. And they have some amazing stories to tell. My favourite job right now is finding ways to tell those stories to our future supporters, and share  with them just how exciting this whole idea is.

What does the charity sector look like today? What are the key challenges to solve?

Martin: I think the charity sector globally is struggling in most parts of the world, and in most areas of the charity sector. The way we communicate and live our lives has changed so much over the last 20 years, and over the last five in particular. Many charities are still working with offerings and ways of working internally that are way older than that. 

As a result, it is becoming ever harder to find new supporters. And at the same time, the needs of those that we serve are growing.  So our progress towards the sustainable development goals, which has been really solid for 50-60 years now, is really faltering and it's going into reverse in some places over the last few years.

As a sector, we've got to take a long, hard look at ourselves and the way we operate. We need to innovate and adapt to those changes in how we behave and communicate as a society. I think that's our biggest challenge right now.

How are you looking to revolutionise this space and face these challenges?

Martin: Well, I certainly wouldn't claim to have revolutionised it just yet, although it certainly does need some pushing in that direction. I think we've seen the most success, across all the charities that I've worked with, when we balance a traditional campaign-based approach which reaches out to people with a clear message, and a focus on products.

I can put it another way. People don't give to us because we need the money. They give to us because of how it makes them feel about who they are. Telling people that we need even more money for a desperate need can work in the short term. It's an essential tool in the toolbox, particularly for Emergency Response for example.

If we look more closely, we can see that most charities' incomes are coming from a smaller group of people and clearly that's not sustainable. We need to deliver experiences that let supporters see the impact they're having around the world, like I have, face-to-face. We need to make their impact much more tangible to them, and allow them to share in an experience that they can then take elsewhere within their families and within their own communities. And that leads us to think more about the product side of what we're doing.

Why do you think it’s important to be product focussed in the charity sector?

Ostmodern: Of course we're biassed and we think product is important, but why do you think it's important and a priority now for the charity sector or for World Vision Canada specifically?

Martin: When we talk about being product focused, we're really talking about understanding the job that a supporter is doing when they make a donation. We know what that job does in terms of delivery of resources to the field or enabling a program to happen. We can list the price points to a donor of what $10 or $50 could achieve.

When we talk about being product focused, we're really talking about understanding the job that a supporter is doing when they make a donation.

Supporters give for all sorts of different reasons. It's not just about the hard facts of "I funded that particular thing" and in many cases, what we give to supporters is an example rather than the actual way that their money was spent.

A supporter is really looking to do one of a number of things. They might be looking to make an impact in a particular field that they really care about. A supporter  might have an affinity with a certain part of the world that they feel a responsibility for and want to help. Some want to connect with someone from a different culture and some people just want to do their bit sometimes.

Those jobs to be done are really difficult to pin down and even if you ask someone why they're supporting a charity, the reason they give won't necessarily tell you everything you need to know to make sure that experience is appropriate.

However, we know that if the experience they receive doesn't do that job for them, then they're unlikely to come back again and we see that behaviour a lot. Understanding and delivering on the job that a supporter has to get done is why we think product thinking is absolutely vital for our success in the future.

Ostmodern: what are some steps or challenges you're seeing while you're trying to understand the needs of your supporters?

Martin: Like many charities, we can see a concentration of support within a particular demographic.  Usually older, wealthier donors account for the big slice of a lot of charities' income but demographics aren't stable over the long run. 

The baby boomer generation, which is at the heart of many charities' supporter base, had a particular economic set of circumstances, a big boost of factors, that just isn't going to be there for the generations that will follow. We can see that we don't just need to reach the next generation as they become older and wealthier, but actually connect with a much more diverse group of people across a whole range of society because we won't see (we don't think) such a concentration of wealth in one particular group.

We  have to broaden our support and make sure we can find ways to connect with a much more diverse sector of the community and enable everyone to take part in this fantastic job of changing the world for the better.

How is Ostmodern helping you to meet your objectives?

Ostmodern: Ostmodern has been working very closely with World Vision Canada for the past year and we've been very involved in World Vision’s  Strategic Decisions and Design Decisions, both in the short and long term. How do you think Ostmodern is helping to address the challenges you have mentioned so far working with World Vision Canada?

Martin: World Vision has worked with Ostmodern across a number of really important parts of our key strategy moving forward in some particular areas like Emergency Response, and then also more broadly building out this idea of what are the jobs that supporters need us to do, and being able to develop a new creative approach which enables us to put those ideas to the test, and put them in front of supporters before we build them and really engage with them and see what their responses are. 

World Vision has worked with Ostmodern across a number of really important parts of our key strategy

We've seen some fantastic insights come out of that. For example, we saw that whilst in the charity sector we have a clear and legal setup that says certain funds are restricted and other funds are unrestricted; our donors had some expectations that were different from that. That caused us to think again about how we position the way we ask a donor to choose how they want funds to be channelled.

That's going to help us deliver on the job they want us to do in the future.

What do you hope Ostmodern and World Vision Canada will achieve in the near and long term future?

Martin: That's where the revolution part comes in. We are looking to engage much more effectively with our supporters. We are looking to engage our reach across a much broader part of the community in Canada and through that to drive greater impact for those we serve in the field and obviously connect Canadians to them much better.

We see that happening through a family of products that are suitable for different people at different times depending on the job that has to be done. We then want to share those successful approaches with the rest of the charity sector so that we can see other charities benefiting from this advanced thinking that we're doing.

Ostmodern: Of course, as a charity, your goal is to drive donations and membership growth while also diversifying audiences, and as you mentioned, understand your supporters and their needs to meet those needs. Are there any specific challenges you're facing that have to do with reaching these diverse audiences?

Martin:  I don't think we're far enough down the line on this. We're looking at going back to first principles and challenge all of the current assumptions we’ve made because we know that some of these assumptions we’re working with don't hold up.

We're looking at starting from first principles and I don't think we've got to the stage just yet where we understand whether there are particular groups that we're failing to reach or being particularly successful with.

What we are doing, of course, is making sure that we're trying to maximise the diversity we have across all of our testing groups, all of our focus groups, all of our broader beta test groups to get a broad spectrum of feedback that's representative of all the very diverse cultures across Canada so that we can have something of very broad appeal. 

That's where we want to go first. As we get more advanced, we'll then go into those areas where perhaps we're not having the reach that we want to and that will demand some extra thinking along the way.

What are your key learnings so far?

Ostmodern: We definitely think that you're setting an example as a charity by thriving for a better relationship with your donors and supporters through digital product design as well as campaigns. What are the key learnings you've had so far from reimagining this charity space?

Martin: I touched on one earlier which I think is indicative of what we're seeing which is that a lot of our assumptions that we have been relying on may not be as solid as we thought.

There are always going to be things that are at the heart of charity. When people are supporting a charity, giving to others, they're doing that because they want the world to be a better place; they want others to have a better life. I don't think that is something that goes away.

How that manifests to them is totally up for grabs now. I think the ways we used to do this; some will still work and some won't. I don't think we know which ones will. That is the next challenge for us. To really understand - almost from first principles if we were inventing the charity sector now - what would it look like? How would we behave? How would we operate? How can we move from some methods of operating that are very embedded across a large number of organisations, many of whom have a long and very rich history, towards this new world which we don't yet understand? Changes are always hard. What skills do we need to learn? What structures do we need to have in place?

That's all part of the journey of discovery that we're going on and the learning that we'll share as we move along that journey.

Ostmodern: Discovery is definitely a continuous thing. This never stops.

How does data play a role in the goal of digital transformation?

Martin: Data probably has two roles in the transformation that we're trying to deliver. I think the closest to developing the idea of clarity around the job to be done, is really just analysing every step of what supporters do, where supporters go, and how they progress through the experiences that we design.

We're taking this approach in building out our new digital platform, which is where all of these new campaigns and experiences live, by instrumenting every step and using A/B testing very thoroughly across each of the changes that we make. 

Whenever we come up with a behaviour we think is interesting, we'll be saying that's really strange, you know, either a positive or a negative engagement at this step. I wonder why that could be. We’ll come up with ideas that might explain it. And then we'll put in place a couple of tests to try and see whether we can understand which of those hypotheses might be true. Is it that they needed to see more of this or less of that? We'll do a version of the page with both of those in place and see which one works better. 

This is very much in line with what you would do in any high growth, high performing digital business. Now those skills are not readily available in the charity sector. Very few charities are using those. That’s a muscle we're building up very quickly. 

The other use of data which is a much more fundamental use case that we see in today's culture are consumers having access to lots of data all the time, and very detailed data.

Take this morning, for example,  because it’s Monday, I have my phone that  pinged and it said:

"This is how much screen time you've had this week; this is what times a day; this is whether or not it impacted on your sleep.” We're used to both a very high quality and quantity of data and also that data being presented to us in a way that is really useful and really personal.

I think for charities that's a challenge because we can't go into this century, we're already well into the 21st century,  using the kind of data that we used to have last century where we said your $10 could do this. We need to be able to actually tell people what their $10 did and what impact that had. We need to help link that back to the kind of impact that you wanted to have.  Was that actually what you wanted to achieve?

We have to build out the infrastructure and the pipes to allow that kind of data to flow to and from operations in the field all over the world, which is not an easy thing to do, as well as building up our own skills for understanding people's behaviour with data in our own market within Canada. 

So yes, lots to do on the data and a very real link at each stage with the designed experience that then turns that data into something meaningful and personal that helps us to engage and to feel great about the impact that we have had.

Ostmodern: It sounds like you already have short and long term goals you want to achieve by using or making use of data. Has there already been any impact that you are seeing on World Vision Canada from using data?

Martin: Yes, I'd say measurable impact in data through the combination of data and creativity from what we've managed to get into market this year, we're speaking at the end of 2023, so earlier in the year for this year's giving season. We ran a new style of creative, building on the emotional connection between our supporters and those we serve trying to build up that idea of a common humanity. A common way of engaging with the world and getting across this idea of the impact that people were having.  

We did that through a really nice creative campaign and a lovely partnership we have with an agency based out of Toronto. We were able to see a really strong increase in the level of engagement with that campaign and the level of traffic that it generated through to our platforms. So just the first step, we are already seeing that impact when we pay attention to the data people are telling us. 

People want impact. The number one reason for not giving to a charity is that they don't think their money is going to do the thing it's supposed to do. 

We are aiming to turn that on its head and say, this is what you said it would do, here's what it actually did. The first step has been very positive, however there are many more steps to go evolving the new product experiences that we've been generating with Ostmodern, and much more to come into market. We had some early success this year with our first version of our Sports Partnership product. But that's very much an early stage test at the moment.

E‍ncouraging numbers so far but I'm going to wait until they show up in our financial results before we start shouting about them any louder than that.

Ostmodern x World Vision

In 2022, Ostmodern and World Vision Canada embarked on a transformative journey, to redefine the user experience and visual identity across their digital platforms. This partnership has involved vision, strategy and implementation, aiming to elevate World Vision Canada's presence and engage donors on a deeper level. 

Ostmodern are embedded within World Vision Canada’s experience teams to expand their operational and strategic capabilities, supporting their newly acquired technology stack and deliver exciting experiences to new and  existing donors. Through immersive design thinking and a collaborative approach, we are working closely with World Vision Canada to deliver first-class solutions to the charity sector.

As we continue to evolve their brand narrative into the digital space, our shared commitment to innovation and user-centric design remains at the forefront. This ongoing collaboration exemplifies the power of synergistic partnerships and our dedication to delivering impactful solutions that resonate with our clients and their audiences.

We are particularly excited about this interview, the first in our series, to demonstrate how product thinking can achieve meaningful impact in the Charity sector. Ostmodern works with a number of clients across different business sectors applying user centric design to benefit our clients businesses.

The product design services we offer at Ostmodern are transferable across a wide range of industries. Our rigorous approach to research, strategy and design helps clients identify opportunities for improvement within their digital business, and understand the nuances that come with that.

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