Most people in the UK have become familiar with charity fundraisers approaching them at the door of their home or in their local shopping centre with a clipboard and paper to ask them to set up a direct debit donation.
But this encounter is likely to become more technological as charities start replacing clipboards with more modern devices.
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home has been one of the first charities in the UK to use an iPad rather than a clipboard when approaching people for their support. Since November 2011 fundraisers employed by the agency Fundraising Initiatives have raised money for the charity door-to-door using iPads or similar devices and have so far recruited 1,233 supporters. The method already accounts for around 10% of Battersea's new donors.
Liz Tait, director of fundraising at Battersea, says a major advantage of the iPad is that it allows fundraisers to show potential donors a video of the charity's work. "This engages people by showing what Battersea is all about and how warm and happy it is here," she says. But it is important to get the length of this video right, and the charity quickly realised it needed to cut its four-minute video down to one minute 38 seconds for this environment.
"The important thing is we only have a few minutes to grab someone's attention," says Tait. "And the fundraiser has to do the introduction first — indeed they still have a massive part to play."
Martin Jervis, chief operating officer at Fundraising Initiatives, says videos can help charities feel more in control of how their brand is represented to the public, by knowing exactly what is being fed to people.
Jervis is also excited about the how the technology can help the fundraising process become more efficient. Recently the agency started a new phase of its iPad project in the UK for automatic postcode and address checks of donor details. This helps eradicate any potential errors which could be taken down on paper forms, he says.
Jervis says the agency will be launching a "worldwide first" in the UK soon, when data will be checked on the devices themselves, eliminating any issues around not having a server connection.
Using iPads has cut the average length of time between donor details being taken and charities receiving their first direct debit payment by 29%.
Jervis says iPads and the electronic process is more cost-effective for charities than using paper.
But what about charities that have an in-house team and would need to shoulder the costs of the iPads?
Chris Reynolds, face-to-face programme manager at Greenpeace, says that in a world with no budget limitations it would also use iPads. "The next step may be iPads but they would have to come down in price quite considerably," he says. The organisation's in-house team has instead given fundraisers PDAs.
It introduced these three months ago and they are used to take donor details, with Greenpeace also able to check postcodes and bank details automatically on the devices without any connection to a server. "Before, 18% of sign ups from the street would fail to process on average each year," says Reynolds. "That's been eliminated immediately."
And he says the donor journey can start more quickly when data is taken electronically, as thank you texts or emails can be sent to people immediately, and a follow-up phone call takes place within 48 hours of the donor signing up. "With paper it could be up to two weeks," he says.
Reynolds also points out a potential public perception problem with fundraisers using iPads, given their cost. "If you are standing with a tablet asking for money the two don't really go hand in hand," he says.
Others agree this is an issue that must be carefully monitored. "I can still see some people thinking 'if you're rich enough to run an iPad, why would you need my money?'," says Daryl Upsall, an international fundraising consultant.
But he says this can be managed by, agencies at least, making it clear that the charities are in effect leasing the device, and also by explaining the costs they can save in quicker processing times and less errors.
He says another advantage with iPads is that charities can change the content of their campaign material more quickly and cheaply. "You can innovate quickly if, for example, an international emergency happens," he says. "The content on the iPads can be updated to immediately reflect what people are seeing on the news and helps to tell the story."
Other forms of technology have also started being used to push face-to-face fundraising out of the direct debit only realm. Over the past year the fundraising agency Tag has started running text donation campaigns for about 10 charities on the street, rather than asking people for monthly gifts.
Matthew Atkinson, a director at Tag, says fundraisers ask members of the public to donate between £1 and £5 by text, depending on the campaign. The charity can follow this up with a phone call, during which it can discuss a regular gift. Atkinson says Tag has had great success with the technique so far and thinks this might be because it gives people a chance to 'test drive' giving to charity.
"If you ask someone to do something small and they feel good about it, this can then inspire them to do something even bigger," he says.
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