Q&A with Joe Freeman, Breast Cancer Now

Q&A with Joe Freeman, Breast Cancer Now

Written by Lauren Howells on Wed 19 Apr 2017


Name: Joe Freeman
Title: Assistant Director, Digital Engagement
Organisation: Breast Cancer Now

What does your current role involve?

My role at Breast Cancer Now is to oversee how we use digital to be better at what we do, basically. That’s obviously a lot for one person to take on, so I manage a fantastic Digital Engagement team who look after digital marketing, social media and our websites. They really know their stuff, and I see my role as championing their expertise, supporting them to help others and then working to improve digital understanding across the charity whilst making the most of opportunities within new projects and existing ones. And it all covers a huge range of work – fundraising, campaigning for access to drugs, events like the London Marathon and Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, to name just a few things we’re working on.

What are the best things you’ve learnt in previous roles?

Digital is no longer the sole responsibility of your “traditional” digital team. As understanding of digital grows, others want to contribute to digital plans; will have ideas of their own; will want to deliver on elements relating to their work. This is fantastic – digital should absolutely be embedded across organisations given the huge potential it presents us. That said, there needs to be someone with oversight as to what’s happening across the board, and experts who know their areas inside out to add value, deliver the work, refine it and make it as good as it possibly can be.

So, communication is so important. Being visible as a digital team, and open to new conversations and new ideas to support an organisation is vital if we’re to be successful. Sometimes this can be a bit of a cultural shift – but that’s what being better at digital needs in many organisations – a change in culture and ways of working. Which is the main thing that I’ve learnt about “digital transformation” (a phrase I’ve effectively banned now because it’s not helpful in the slightest) over recent years.

What are the biggest challenges you come up against within your role?

I’ve recently submitted my digital plans for the coming years which focus a lot on digital skills within the charity and supporting the organisation to get better at digital. It also focuses a lot on getting processes right with other teams, a new digital strategy and how we can improve our existing digital offerings. That’s how I and the team want to be taking things forward. 

What we’ve then had to factor in is the rest of the organisation’s plans, and how we can support everyone. Cue lots of conversations, juggling with timelines, breaking Excel spreadsheets and waking up at 2am wondering how I’m going to fit everything in… So that’s been challenging, but there’s been great support and collaboration across teams which is so very helpful. 

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the not-for-profit sector?

Obviously the GDPR stuff being introduced in 2018 is presenting a massive challenge for the sector, and perhaps a lot of uncertainty too. But it’s vital to get it right, and so needs the appropriate level of attention, and is something we’re certainly focusing on as a team. 

From a purely digital perspective, I think the sector still faces a huge challenge in getting digital better understood and represented at a Trustee level. The recent Charity Digital Skills Report made for some bleak reading at first, but presents a huge opportunity for everyone to use this information to badger Directors, Chief Executives, Trustees – anyone who will listen – about the importance of digital. And by “digital” I mean everything from fundraising, service provision, support for beneficiaries, social media, storytelling, content, products, HR… I don’t think there’s a single area of a charity that could not be improved upon with the right conversations and focus.

What's in your toolkit? What sites or tools do you love?

I’m getting back into using Trello to keep my work life more organised. It really is helpful, especially when I need to be aware of what’s happening across the organisation as well as what the team are working on. 

I’m still big in to Twitter as a tool to learn, problem solve, help others and generally keep an eye on what’s happening out and about. I’m slightly suspicious of people who work in digital but don’t really use it to be honest – but that’s probably because I’ve found it so useful that I immediately think everyone else should too…

Which events or meetups do you attend for learning and knowledge share?

I’m a huge fan of #NFPtweetup and have been to many of their events over the years, and spoken at a fair few of them. It’s just full of nice, like-minded people who share a passion for all things digital. And it’s fun. Plus there’s usually Haribo, crisps and beer, so there’s that… 

The Together We’re Better events are good too, and will be making the effort to attend more.

Whose work in the not-for-profit sector inspires you?

The RNLI are a favourite, certainly from a content point of view. They are on it, and use digital so well to share stories about just how vital their work is - I even set up a regular donation after seeing so much good content from them. They’re incredibly innovative too and aren’t afraid to try things and learn from them to make future things even better. I’m actually a bit jealous, if I’m being totally honest. 

I went to a Teenage Cancer Trust gig the other day and missed the first two songs due to being blinded by tears after they showed a particularly emotive video which was followed by young people they’ve supported come out on the stage. The ability to excellently tell stories about an organisation’s work is so important, and they did this particularly well on this occasion. 

Whose work outside the not-for-profit sector inspires you?

A bit of a weird one, but TfL did a really fascinating piece of work recently using data gathered from tracking people’s phones on the tube network. It’s particularly interesting then when you then think about what sorts of data your charity has and how you can visualise that to tell a story or to create messages to support campaigns. Breast Cancer Now are currently funding 105 research grants worth over £26million at over 30 institutions across the UK and Ireland. It’s a bit mind-boggling to think about the masses of data all that work’s creating, but there’ll be loads of it that we could appropriately use to highlight what we do, why it’s so important and to gather more support. 

How do you see Breast Cancer Now developing digitally over the next year?

The next year or so will be about embedding digital within other teams and working with them to create bespoke digital engagement plans that my team will support them with. Even if this leads to simply being involved earlier in a team’s planning efforts, or something that goes on to raise us millions of pounds, it’ll be starting to put digital closer to the heart of what we all do, enabling us to better communicate with people in a way they want to engage with us. 

What new technologies are you excited about?

How we interact with technology is changing, so I’m very excited to see what the future of things like Amazon’s Echo brings for us as a sector. How we use social media is changing a lot too – one-to-few communication tools such as Whatsapp and Facebook’s Messenger create huge opportunities for the sector, and I think we would all do well to think about how we can implement these into strategies that go above a traditional one-to-many social media approach. I guess these aren’t really new technologies, but their use to support charities would perhaps be.

Then there’s chat bots. I love a chat bot, when it’s done well. My favourite one was used to promote Channel 4’s Humans programme and it was superb. How can charities use them to support their services or meet the needs of users? A big question I’d like to be looking at, for sure. 

What new technology offers the biggest opportunity for fundraising for not-for-profits?

Ignoring my excitement about new technologies in the answer above, there are still many, many existing technologies that charities aren’t mastering and I’d rather advocate that people work to use these better first before jumping on the bandwagon of something new.

I think there’s more charities can be doing with social media and engaging with supporters. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still a lot of simply broadcasting of messages going on and we need to become better at understanding what segments within our social audiences are interested in and engaging with them with a greater degree of relevance. 

Understanding how people get to your website, what they’re doing there, what they’re not doing there, what they want there is all really important and so from an analytics point of view there’s lots that can be done. It’s an area that perhaps hasn’t seen much investment from charities in the past, but it’s one that I’d prioritise – and then work on how these analytics inform content strategies and campaign plans and generally help inform an awful lot more of the work your digital team does – and how that then supports the rest of the organisation.