The Woodland Trust: Online Innovation from Not-for-profits

futurelab default header

by: Matt Rhodes

I’m constantly impressed by the levels of innovation and adoption of new techniques that go on in the not-for-profit sector. A couple of weeks ago I met Jon Parsons from the Woodland Trust and was talking about what work his organisation does online at the moment. I often find that the best of the not-for-profit sector can be as good as if not better than the best of what larger brands are doing.

Some claim this is because the not-for-profit sector doesn’t have the same commercial risks that might be associated with over-innovating. I don’t buy this. Charities like the Woodland Trust rely on donations and need to generate donors in the same way that corporates generate customers. Others claim conversely that the not-for-profit sector seek out constant innovation as they seek out constant new sources of donors. Again, I just don’t think this is true.

I think that not-for-profits are innovative online because their brand naturally lends itself to something that people want to engage with. Rather than a product or service that people are buying, when they engage with not-for-profits they are buying into a cause, belief or campaign. They want to feel a part of something rather than buy a part of something.

Building an engagement strategy online is easier if you have something people already engage with. The Woodland Trust is a great example of this. They run an interactive Citizen Science programme called Nature’s Calendar which gets people to log when the first flowers of spring emerge or when frog-spawn appears in their pond. Participation in this is huge – in 2007 over 2,250 people contributed to data on when they first mowed their lawn! A second example of active online engagement from the Woodland Trust is their Ancient Tree Hunt, a community where people can log and record on a map where ancient trees are to be found. Almost 7,000 trees have been identified to date in the UK. These form the heart of the community with people encouraged to add more information about these trees and even to blog about their visits to the woods or trees.

The Woodland trust achieves admirable levels of engagement. It is solely concerned with a topic that people care about and engagement with them is integral to their involvement with the Trust in the first place. That’s why they show signs of getting things right online. They understand engagement; that’s what they do.

Original Post: