Breaking digital barriers in charities

The National Autistic Society, Teenage Cancer Trust and Media Trust all spoke at an event hosted by Overherd and supported by Charity Connect on the 18th of October.

There were some great insights from all about the challenges they’ve been through in embedding digital at the heart of their organisations. Here’s what we learned.

TL:DR —invest in creating content that speaks to a particular audience and focus on distribution through channels which they see as credible.

The National Autistic Society’s #TooMuchInformation Campaign


  • Work hard to get everyone onboard internally before and during the campaign
  • Great content which is focussed on a particular audience insight will travel
  • The right media partnership drives understanding rather than gains reach
  • New technology gives unexpected benefits and disadvantages
  • Your least engaged audiences are unlikely to sign up to data capture
  • Data capture is great for recruiting or reinvigorating people already close to your cause
  • A focussed 3 day push with spend and content distribution kicking in after 6 hours is a strong strategy if the creative is good enough
  • Make your content have an organic feel, using ‘click bait’ style titles such as ‘Can you make it to the end’
  • Use your internal teams to run creative testing sessions so that they can see how positively people react to content and ensure buy in

Tom Madders and Chrystyna Chymera took us through the highlights of their sector leading Too Much Information campaign.

Download the full campaign report.

This campaign is the first time that the NAS have tried to tackle public perception. It is also the first time that they’ve committed to a long term strategic campaign rather than one off tactical outputs. This took a long time to come about and the team had to get everyone behind it to make it happen and to be successful.

The Facts:

Source: The National Autistic Society Too Much Information Campaign Report

The Need:

Autistic people and families want the public to understand that real life can be overwhelming so that they understand when they react in particular ways in certain situations. With this understanding will come a reduction in the social isolation that many sufferers feel.

The Aim:

This was not an awareness campaign — that has been done and nearly everyone is aware of Autism. The ambition here was to get genuine appreciation of what Autism is and how to act around people with it. As such the campaign’s KPIs are:

  • 5% increase of real understanding of Autism
  • 5% behavioural change in relation to Autism

The Insight:

In focus group tests with mothers (the campaign’s core audience) they were presented with a scenario where they saw a child shouting and screaming at a parent in a supermarket. When asked what they would do, many said that they would mutter under their breath or try to intervene to reprimand the child. When asked what they would do if they knew the child had autism everyone immediately switched their approach to, “What can I do to help?”. This gave the team confidence that it doesn’t take a lot to change people’s behaviour, when they have a small piece of extra information.

The approach — “I’m not naughty, i’m autistic”

Working with an agency partner, the team decided on a strategy which would put content at the heart of their campaign. In particular they focussed on creating a video which highlighted the way that people with autism experience the world:

Following this content creation, they then focussed on channels and communities which would distribute the video for them, to ensure that it reached people in places that they would trust and engage with it, rather than simply pass by. This was crucial in order to achieve the behaviour changing and deeper understanding that were the aims of this campaign.

The campaign:

If organic distribution of content was going to be at the heart of the campaign, then ensuring buy in from the active online Autistic community was crucial. As such, they were heavily engaged to help create the film itself.

All of the creative insights which created the foundation of the video, came from people with autism. The overwhelming brightness of white floors, the confusion that different types of music can cause and the reactions that follow all came from the community with the NAS serve. The child featured in the video is also Autistic which led to further credibility.

In addition to the straight organic distribution of the content through their own channels, NAS embarked on a content distribution campaign which featured:

  • Small budgets for Facebook, YouTube and pre-roll video placements
  • A huge PR push into digital content hubs such as Unruly and the LadBible
  • A Guardian content partnership including 8 pieces, a digital hub, digital display banner traffic drivers, 3 films and print editorial pieces as added value

In addition to their content distribution campaign, the NAS also created a bespoke digital experience on their website, where they could capture people’s information in order to make them feel a part of the campaign. This took the form of a map which people could ‘put themselves on’ and some top tips for what to when engaging with people with Autism:

The final element to the campaign was an innovative Virtual Reality film which put the audience in a 360 degree experience where they could genuinely see the world as an Autistic child:

Whilst effective with the members of the public which saw the film, an unexpected benefit of this content was its impact within schools. With teachers able to purchase 3 google cardboards along with lesson plans for just £25, the impact on curriculums has been significant. Thousands of schools are now including the film as part of their activity with students as well as using it to train their staff in how to work with pupils with Autism.

The team repeatedly sighted internal engagement as a key reason for the success of the campaign. There are 3,000 people that work for or with the NAS so if you can get a decent proportion of them sharing and liking your video then you are already onto a winner. The team ran numerous activities to make sure everyone was on board such as:

  • Internal engagement sessions at the planning stage
  • Ensuring Director buy in so other campaigns were asked how they’d dovetail with the Too Much Information activity
  • Webcasts to show regional offices and remote workers the campaign plan
  • Using internal teams to run creative testing sessions so that they could see for themselves how people reacted to the creative

The Results:

The team spoke movingly about how the real results of the campaign are in the stories that they hear from their supporters. Such as the mother who experienced what their child’s life is like for the first time using their VR experience. Or the young man who used the Google cardboard to show his friends how a night out with them can feel like.

In addition to those though, there are some cold hard stats to show just how successful their approach has been:

  • 56m views of the video
  • 1m shares of the film
  • 4% engagement rate (charity average 0.7%) for the Facebook video
  • 25,000 sign ups to the map — although interestingly they said that only 1,000 of these were from their target audience, the rest were from the Autistic community itself.
  • A 16% shift in behaviour according to NFP Synergy’s surveys
  • The Guardian partnership saw over 320,000 views of content with an average dwell time of 2 minutes 13 seconds and so many click through on the traffic drivers that they thought they’d made a mistake!

Teenage Cancer Trust


  • 7 people aged 13–24 are diagnosed with cancer every day
  • If you have a busy period you have to plan your content calendar meticulously to allow you to be reactive on the day
  • More ‘live’ reactive content works better on Twitter than Facebook
  • Social takeovers by your service user (especially Instagram) are a great way to get people engaged with your cause
  • You have to rework films that are shown at events so they can be suitable for social media

The ever excellent Dan Smyth took us through his team’s mammoth effortfor their concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and the London Marathon, which for the first time fell on the same week.

Key to the team’s success was their editorial calendar for which work started 6 months in advance. By having a set schedule for the varying types of content that they wanted to broadcast, it meant that they could be more reactive at the live events when the opportunity arose.

One of the most interesting approaches that TCT took was to give control of their social feeds to the teenagers that they help. On the night of the concerts this meant that more people than ever, could see what the gigs are about aside from the main headliners. It also meant that they could get unique content from one the stage throughout the show:

Every night of the Albert Hall shows a moving, 4 minute appeal video is shown to the audience. Whilst extremely compelling and a fantastic illustration of the impact and need of the Teenage Cancer Trust, this video is too long for Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and doesn’t work without the sound. As such, the team took the raw materials and a lot of B-roll, and turned the film into 15 second, 30 second and 1 minute cuts including subtitles, which could be used across their social media to great effect.

Ahead of the London Marathon, the team spent time sourcing stories for Facebook, which could make an impact with their audience, helping them to understand why the largest ever TCT team was running:

The Media Trust and their creative process for video


  • By 2019 84% of web traffic will be video views
  • In 2015 the average length of video view online was 2:52 — which is likely to continue to fall dramatically
  • Make every view count — quality targeting and messaging that resonates with a certain audience is more likely to achieve your aims than a high number of views by ‘everyone’
  • Ask yourself — Who’s the video for, what do they like and what do they think?
  • “Speaking to your audience allows you to be brave rather than foolish”

The Media Trust’s Wendy Pearce and Tom Paul Martin took us through how they approach the creation of their award winning films for small to medium sized charities. Their average budget ranges from £5k to £30k so they are well versed in getting maximum impact when there is little money for distribution and seeding.

Largely due to these constraints, Media Trust encourage their clients to be highly specific about their audience and the results they want to see by speaking to them.

This is the approach that they took for their work with the Childhood Trust’s Summer Give Campaign to truly outstanding effect:

By focussing their film on a tight audience (in their case mothers) they have been able to generate over £500,000 of donations despite the video only having around 8,000 views on YouTube. Their analysis showed that the average gift is over £400 — which is unheard of in the sector for a campaign of this type.

So how do you make that happen for your organisation? Tom took us through his creative process as a Director. It is designed to help his films stand out in an increasingly crowded market place.

1. Who’s it for?

  • Assume that you have no pre-existing knowledge of your audience
  • Be brave and pick your audience knowing that you’re likely to exclude others by doing so
  • If you try to please everyone you’ll be remembered by no one
  • Start with generic groups, such as “Young people” and narrow down to specific interests that you can work with such as, “13–14 year old boys with their first ideas about social responsibility and who like zombies”. That’s how you get to videos such as Population Matters’ Zombie Overpopulation:

2. What do they like?

  • Be happy to reappropriate ideas that are already in the consciousness
  • Aardman’s Creature Comforts was the inspiration for this Living Streets Walk to School campaign — but thanks to the updated technology, expensive stop motion animation was no longer needed and the same look and feel could be achieved very cheaply and at speed:

3. What do they think?

  • By considering your audience and speaking to them, you can work up brave creative routes rather than foolish ones
  • Absolutely crucial if it’s the first time you’ve created a film for this audience
  • Allows you to avoid assumptions
  • This was critical for the Miscarriage Association’s film if they were to be effective and not offend when training ambulance crews: