Continuing our series of interviews with the judges of this year’s Dadi Awards, in association with Synergist, The Drum talks to Sarah Jordan, head of digital strategy at Oxfam, about how charities and other organisations without big budgets can continue to innovate online.

What has been your favourite digital product or campaign from the last 12 months?

As a digital professional working in the charity sector, the recent #nomakeupselfie campaign was really interesting to watch. It was actually started by someone completely independently, but was quickly adopted by many of the cancer charities and resulted in millions being donated, including £8m+ to Cancer Research alone. Clearly social media/viral explosions of this size don’t happen often and are impossible to create – and actually some of the more controversial elements of this one mean you may not want to – but there is still a lot to learn from them.

In the charity sector, how difficult is it to secure the funding to try out adventurous ideas and adopt the latest technology? Do you ever find yourself peering enviously at the big budgets in the commercial/corporate worlds?

The short answer is yes, I do often wish I had a bigger budget, but actually one of the challenges I enjoy about my job is trying to be as creative and innovative as possible without spending lots of money. Oxfam has a great record of transparency and accountability (only 9p in every £1 donated goes on support costs, for example) and we simply don’t have large amounts of money to spend, so we have to think creatively about how to engage supporters, inspire people, and fundraise in different ways.

Sometimes I do wish it was easier to secure funding to try out new ideas and technologies because there’s loads of things I’d love to do, but at the same time I appreciate that charities can’t always be cutting-edge as we have to justify every £1 we spend – that money is ultimately somebody’s hard-earned donation.

I’m lucky that Oxfam as a brand is generally willing to try things, innovate and lead in different ways though, so I do still get to do some cool stuff in my job. I’ve also tried to be creative myself to do new things, for example by establishing partnerships with companies and other organisations who can help us achieve our aims through supporting us with expertise, technology, collaborative initiatives or sometimes financially, and that works really well.

There are some fantastic opportunities for Oxfam to make use of new technology, for example in new ways of supporting and donating, linking our high street and online shops, and bringing our programme content back into our comms to show the impact of our work, so it’s exciting time to work in digital.

What is the primary digital objective for Oxfam? Do you find digital most effective as a fundraising platform or as a way for you to spread your campaign messages?

At Oxfam, we believe that digital technologies provide us with a huge opportunity to amplify and improve the effectiveness of our work – with our supporters, with our partners and directly with poor communities. Our vision is to use digital technologies to amplify the voices of the poor, to create change and to enable our supporters to play a role in that change.

Beneath that vision, we don’t have just one objective for digital within Oxfam, which is both a challenge and an opportunity as it’s hard to simplify what the organisation does and prioritise work, but does give us lots of scope to engage supporters in different ways.

For me, it’s all about appropriateness and relevance – digital is an enabler not an end in itself – so we try to use digital where it’s most effective across all areas of our work. That can be attracting new and younger audiences to take part in our sporting and music events, raising awareness of our work as well as income through our online shop, encouraging our supporters to take action and campaign collectively on our behalf via digital channels, or helping us operate more efficiently and effectively internally.

For more direct fundraising, digital is really important, particularly in an emergency, and we’re seeing a huge growth in the contribution of mobile, for example, which is reflective of wider industry trends.

What device trends are you seeing among your audience? And do you find certain platforms to be more ‘generous’ in their giving?

I think we’re reflective of general trends across the industry, with a significant migration towards digital channels and mobile in particular. As an organisation we’ve traditionally relied on DM and DRTV to reach our core audiences, but that’s changing and it’s vital that we make more and better use of digital channels to reach new and younger audiences and stay relevant.

Specific channel and device breakdowns are quite interesting, with mobile and tablet visitors to the main Oxfam website up significantly year on year (124 per cent and 45 per cent respectively), and donations from those devices both up over 50 per cent from this time last year as well.

In our online shop, we are now seeing over one third of all visitors coming via tablet and mobile – it’s around 35 per cent on weekdays and rises to over 40 per cent at weekends. Of those, the majority are from tablets and while average transaction values on desktops and phones are fairly similar, tablet users spend an average of £3 more per order. Mobile revenue is up 207 per cent on last year and we expect this to rise still further when our shop site becomes fully mobile-optimised later this summer. Interestingly we see the opposite trend for donations, where mobiles have a significantly lower average gift value than desktops as well as a much lower conversion rate.

Digital and mobile are particularly important during an emergency, and we saw this in particular during the Philippines crisis response last year. At that time mobile device usage (phones and tablets) was considerably higher in terms of both traffic and donations, and we are increasingly seeing that people are more inclined to engage on these devices when there’s a lot of media coverage or a sense of urgency. Having our on-site, mobile and acquisition activity ready to go in advance of an emergency is therefore a hugely important part of our work as a digital team.

What devices do you own?

Too many! For work I have a very old XP laptop and a Blackberry, which is sometimes a challenge, but I am increasingly using my own devices to do my job. I have an iPhone 5, iPad, e-reader and for a while was using some of the wearable tech such as a Fitbit, but am trying to streamline a bit as it all involves a big bag and too many chargers. I use the excuse of needing to try different tools and platforms for my job, but in reality I’m just a bit of a tech geek.

As a judge of this year’s Dadi Awards, what are you hoping to see from the entrants? And what is your general opinion of the UK digital industry at present?

I’m really excited by the opportunity to judge the Dadi Awards this year and see some of the UK’s best digital work. I’m hoping to see some great entries, particularly in the not-for-profit sector, where I think digital offers some amazing opportunities but is still largely unrealised. Digital has caused massive disruption in many sectors, such as music, media, retail and payment/financial services, but charity/not-for-profit still remains largely unaffected. I think there’s both a challenge and an opportunity in that and whoever realises it first will really shake up the sector. The smaller budgets shouldn’t mean a lack of innovation, so it would be nice to see some of that coming through this year.

What is the most exciting thing in digital right now?

Wow, that’s a big question! For me there are still some exciting developments as disciplines such as marketing and technology converge, and this has the potential to transform individual fields and even whole organisations.

We’ve now got so much more of the ‘plumbing’ sorted – social, mobile, cloud etc – that the opportunities for data, content, storytelling and visualisation on the back of that are huge. Whether it’s using more gesture & motion control to navigate, shop or game online, or the application of AR to visualise and interact with data in a completely new way. DAQRI technology, for example, combines physical and digital worlds to give exciting new 4D experiences – and I’d love to be able to apply that to bring some of Oxfam’s programme content to life and into our high street shops. There’s lots to watch in this space.

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