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Sunday, 24 October 2021
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Looking back on a digital year: how Anthony Nolan adapted their approach to engagement

The pandemic brought with it the need to reimagine how Anthony Nolan as an organisation engages with its audiences. In this blog Anthony Nolan Chief Engagement & Marketing Officer Terence Lovell reflects on a period of change and what the future landscape for our audience engagement looks like.

Effective engagement is crucial in our mission to save lives. Whether we’re organising public appeals to find stem cell donors or equipping our incredible community of fundraisers with the tools they need, being able to reach our audiences is fundamental to what we do. Without our supporters, we simply could not save lives.

Over the last year, we’ve had to reimagine how we connect with our audiences – leveraging digital tools and processes at a pace and scale that we had never previously attempted, all with the goal of keeping our lifesaving work moving.

Prior to the pandemic, about half of all our donor recruitment and fundraising events were held physically – an option that was cut off to us almost overnight. We found ourselves urgently needing to find new ways of working, but with no ready examples to look to for guidance.

At Anthony Nolan, we don’t shy away from a challenge. Bringing the same passion and spirit that we do to our drive to save lives, we have embraced engagement in the digital space to be as present as ever. We’ve been able to keep our supporters informed and engaged throughout the past year and this is a credit to the incredible teams within the organisation.

Fundraising in a remote world

Nowhere is this more evident than in our fundraising. Our Coronavirus Emergency Appeal was our first fully digital fundraising initiative and has also been our most successful, with over £697,000 raised to date. With traditional physical events no longer an option, we’ve adopted new ways of enabling our committed supporter base to keep active. From developing virtual quiz packs, Facebook fundraisers and outdoor challenges to posting fundraising toolkits in the mail, we’ve ensured our Anthony Nolan community of fundraisers continue to feel connected and supported in their efforts while also being able to safely and independently take on new challenges which raise much-needed funds for our lifesaving work.

Using social media to generate action

We’ve also accelerated improvements in engagement through our patient appeals, with social media providing a powerful way to connect with the public and tell our patients’ stories in new ways. Through social media we’ve followed Libby, Evie and other patients on their journeys to find a match and throughout treatment, with this human connection helping to generate an unprecedented wave of potential new donors joining the register from across the country and raising funds to recruit quality donors to the register.

Importantly, the flexibility and speed offered by social channels have meant that we have been able to tell our audiences more about the nuances of our donor targeting strategy and why it’s vital that we can cover the cost of adding good-quality donors to the register.

We’ve also thought differently about how our celebrity supporters can help to get our messages out there, recognising that events need not be glitzy in-person affairs to be effective – with a live Instagram takeover by Olivia Colman and Joe Crowley and the wholly digital Anthony Nolan Supporter Awards just two examples of successful virtual events that have helped to publicise our work and key messages to large audiences. Virtual webinars have also proved effective for engaging with high-value supporters and keeping them informed on our response to the emergency.

Social media has also been integral to our ability to share guidance and updates with patients as they happen. Our Facebook and Twitter pages have been a key channel through which to sign-post our patients to the latest information on topics including shielding, vaccinations and financial support, while also hearing about any concerns or questions directly from patients – allowing us to respond and adapt our approach in a much more timely way.

Reaching the right people

One of our biggest challenges has been how to continue recruiting a diverse mix of potential donors to the register. Younger, male and minority ethnic donors are hugely important, but before the pandemic had been much more likely to engage with us at physical events than through online channels. The pandemic has pushed us to refine our online engagement with these priority groups, through the use of improved targeting, a broader range of digital channels and the use of content that better reflects the audiences we want to engage with.

Keeping in touch with our staff

We’ve also been creative in our engagement with our staff, using technology to bring together our 300+ strong team of colleagues – almost all of whom have been working remotely during the pandemic. Our wellbeing and internal communications teams have successfully offered a range of remote facilities to support staff wellbeing. Initiatives such as the virtual meeting between a stem cell transplant recipient in the UK and her Germany-based donor have been a reminder to all of us of the incredible impact of what we do, and have only been made possible through digital technology.

Looking ahead

While I couldn’t be prouder of what we have achieved, we still have some big questions to tackle. We continue to challenge ourselves to innovate in areas such as refining our engagement online with our target donor demographic of young men and people from minority ethnic backgrounds, and how to keep the same warmth and human touch that we are so used to offering in face-to-face events.

Although we hope for a return to physical events and engagement in the not-too-distant future, we are certain that many of the changes of the last year are here to stay. Retaining the flexibility to engage our supporters in new and innovative ways means that we can reach bigger audiences and achieve even more for people who need to find their lifesaving match.

As an organisation, we are at the start of a journey that will ultimately see us being more nimble, responsive to the world around us and able to bring our audiences along with us in ever more creative ways.

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