Paul Cardwell looks at which charities are making the best use of digital technology to explore how your organisation can become more connected.
Five years ago few people would have heard of Uber, Airbnb or Netflix but now they are household names.
And, as more of us turn to apps and technology for the services we use in our leisure it would be naïve for charities to ignore the digital revolution, wouldn’t it?
Well, worryingly, a recent study by Lloyds banking group found that a staggering 49% of third sector organisations lack basic digital skills.
The report’s authors said this included such things as charities having a website, having a social media presence or an ability to accept online giving.
It’s clear many people and organisations across the sector do not have the confidence, knowledge or skills to make the most of these opportunitiesDavid McNeill
So, are those charities ignoring digital at risk of being left behind?
Financially yes - the report also found charities that are more digitally mature are 28% more likely to report an increase in funding than those who aren’t.
So why are so many charities failing to be more digitally aware?
As with much of the sector, funding is an issue. To make use of any new technology some training is often required and although there are some free online courses, depending on the tech involved training costs can still add up.
To implement new digital strategies and techniques new staff may have to be hired in specialist roles, particularly if existing staff don’t have digital skills or are simply stretched to the limit in their current role.
There can also be infrastructure costs such as buying new hardware and software.
While these reasons are understandable, they can be short-sighted, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), the umbrella body for Scottish charities, suggests.
Charities need to move with the times and technology has the potential to help organisations meet the needs of the people they help.
SCVO warns it is hard to see how charities that don’t take the opportunity to adapt will survive.
“There are huge opportunities provided by new technology and the internet for organisations of all sizes and shapes across the third sector to take advantage of,” David McNeill, SCVO’s director of digital said.
“There are some great examples of organisations using digital to be more efficient and effective by using digital, while at the same time better meeting the expectations of their service users.
“However, it’s clear many people and organisations across the sector do not have the confidence, knowledge or skills to make the most of these opportunities.
“This is why we need leaders to invest the time to explore digital, starting with how service users want to engage in a digital world as well as how staff and volunteers can use technology to maximise their impact.
“Leaders in the third sector do not need to be digital experts, but do need to encourage organisational change to be fit-for-purpose in a digital world.”
To do its part SCVO has launched the One Digital programme in a bid to make Scotland a world-leading digital nation by 2020.
This has seen 500 people, known as digital champions, from over 300 different organisations trained to deliver training, support and guidance for those working or volunteering in the third sector and encourages them to pass those skills on.
If you are not online then you are invisible – so you need to ask yourself if that is ok. I’d be surprised if the answer was yes but never say never!Louise Macdonald
SCVO has supported a further 84 organisations to help their beneficiaries to develop basic digital skills through the Digital Participation Challenge Fund and over the past six months it has brought together 19 leaders from across Scotland’s third sector to participate in an digital leadership course.
One charity leader renowned for being digitally savvy is Louise Macdonald, the chief executive of Young Scot.
She has once again been named one of the top 30 charity chief executives who use social media throughout the whole of the UK, created by digital experts Zoe Amar and Matt Collins.
In October she was named Not for Profit/Third Sector Director of the Year by the UK Institute of Directors, for how she has led the organisation.
Appointed to the top position in 2008 she has focussed on digital because it’s what she says the young people the charity serves have asked for.
Last year Young Scot launched its new digital platform young.scot and its membership increased by over 25% to more than 680,000 – equivalent to two-thirds of population aged 11 to 26.
The website page views rocketed over 200% to 138,000 a month and Twitter followers increased to over 24,000.
Its Young Scot National Entitlement Card, which members sign up to, allows the charity to tackle inequality by providing rewards such as shopping discounts and services to each of them.
Macdonald's top tip for charities looking to improve digitally is to get their online presence sorted first.
“Online search engines are now the number one source of information for everyone, not just young people,” she says.
“If you are not online then you are invisible – so you need to ask yourself if that is ok. I’d be surprised if the answer was yes but never say never!
Young Scot Entitlement Card holders can get money off their shopping at the Co-operative Food by swiping their smartcard.
“Most organisations will think of having a website but that isn’t the only option. If you are best served through a Facebook page and a listing on Google then that’s perfect.
“If you are campaigning, then a page on 38Degrees might be better than a dedicated website.
“It is a mistake to try to do everything or look for the perfect bespoke platform, the right answer is the platform that helps you to achieve your objectives.”
Macdonald is also of the persuasion that those who are not making use of digital will find success harder.
Stakeholders, funders and the public all – quite rightly – demand transparency and openness and being online can be a perfect way of doing that. If you are hard to find then it could mean people become suspicious of your organisation.
In this financial climate, it is essential to explore digital solutions to help us offer a high standard of 24-hour care and maximise available budgetsAndrew Williamson
Macdonald added: “The good news is the financial barriers to getting online are now pretty low and online tools have made the process easier than ever.
“And if you need more help then there are free resources out there – social media surgeries, SCVO and the Big Lottery Fund are just a few of the organisations that can help. If you need more help then perhaps you could look to recruit a digital volunteer or a modern apprentice.”
It’s not just youth charities such as Young Scot which are evolving thanks to digital.
There are some fantastic examples of charities (some listed below) using technology to their benefit.
Social care charity Quarriers has demonstrated that digital transformation isn’t just about websites but about redesigning services and making use of technology to maximise the impact of staff and volunteers.
In 2009 it launched its Go4IT project which has seen classes put on in clubs and community hubs teaching adults with disabilities to use and access technology.
It has created a course on basic digital skills with a focus on internet safety, opening up a world of technology that tackles isolation such as email and video calling, to convenience tech such as online banking, shopping and price saving comparison sites.
Last year the charity launched its new Technology Enabled Care service, which enables people it supports to manage elements of their support through a touchscreen tablet from their own home.
This offers them choice and control over how they receive support, and they can contact a member of staff or volunteer at any time through secure video link.
“So much of our lives take place online,” Andrew Williamson, deputy chief executive and service director at Quarriers says.
“We’ve seen friendships blossom, interests pursued, and families keeping in touch across the miles – which quite simply would not have happened without this service.
Quarriers Go4IT project helps adults with disabilities to use technology
“At Quarriers we view digital technology as essential for organisations in the third sector.
“In this financial climate, it is essential to explore digital solutions to help us offer a high standard of 24-hour care and maximise available budgets.
“It is also an easy and effective way to promote choice and independent living and of helping to reduce isolation for people affected by disabilities: friends, family and support staff are now just a few clicks away.”
Third sector organisations are operating in an environment of continued and increased scrutiny with less capacity and resources to support people with increasingly complex problems.
This stretched landscape could be seen as reasons to entrench – what enlightened organisations are doing is taking this as an opportunity to look for new solutions.
Whether there will ever be a charity version of Uber, Airbnb or Netflix only time will tell. But let’s hope so.
Five more charity projects using tech for good
Euan's Guide has created an online disabled access review site. The reviews are created by disabled people and their families and friends and is a great reference tool. Just like Tripadvisor and other similar website the reviews include hotels, restaurants, cinemas, theatres and more. It was founded in 2013 by brother and sister, Euan and Kiki MacDonald, after Euan, who has motor neurone disease, became a powerchair user.
For more visit: euansguide.com.
PoppyScotland made use of technology this year to revamp its online giving platform. As well as being able to donate people were given the chance to plant a virtual poppy in a virtual garden on its website. Along with their poppy, people could leave a message of support or tribute to veterans and those still serving. To plant a virtual poppy visitors to the site had to donate £5.
For more visit: poppyscotland.org.uk.
RNIB Connect Radio, which started life as Insight Radio, is Europe’s first radio station for blind and partially sighted people. Launched in 2007, it reaches 135,000 listeners from its main studio in Glasgow but also broadcasts from satellite studios in Edinburgh, London and Cardiff. Many of its producers and presenters are blind or partially sighted so can really provide content suited to its listeners. Available on Freeview channel 730, 101FM in Glasgow, listeners can also repeat and download the weekly features online and on smart devices.
For more visit: rnibconnectradio.org.uk.
International school feeding charity Mary’s Meals launched a contactless donation scheme earlier this year partnering with tech firm Lunchbox. It positioned small electronic contactless donation terminals in selected cafés, allowing those buying food to tap their bank card on the terminal and donate 30p to the charity. The scheme has proved to be a huge success registering 1,500 taps in its first six weeks.
For more visit: marysmeals.org.uk.
Digital technology empowers vulnerable children to contact the NSPCC’s children’s helpline 24/7. As well as its freephone number, young people can get in touch with ChildLine via its website using email. It also has a message board and pages of advice for those in need. Once a young person has asked for help an online counselling service can be arranged via one-to-one instant messenger. The website also has a clever function whereby on every page clicking a button takes the user instantly to the Google home page to prevent anyone seeing what website you were on.
For more visit: childline.org.uk.