As anyone in business will be aware, it’s impossible to compete in today’s marketplace without a strong digital strategy. This is no less true in the charity sector, yet sequential reports have revealed that charities are lagging behind in terms of their engagement with technology. Although some are doing well, many lack digitally skilled personnel and fall far short of their potential as a result. How should charities be engaging with technology, and what can they hope to achieve through doing so?
Perhaps the single most important area in which charities need to get active online is fundraising. Setting up donation portals on websites is easy to do, with most digital payment systems offering packages that obviate the need for advanced coding skills. Fundraising apps make it easy to reach people accessing the internet through mobile devices. The increasing number of people using online banking means it’s easy for anyone to set up a regular charity donation without having to fill out forms and take them to a branch in person, so supporters are less likely to second guess their desire to do so. It’s also easier for charities to identify potential big donors, trust and other grant providers through online databases.
Using the internet makes it much easier for charities to get noticed, which is especially important for smaller organizations without dedicated marketing budgets. Building up a social media profile is simple, though it’s important not to overreach yourself by trying to stay active on lots of different platforms at once – most organizations get best results by focusing on just two or three. It’s vital to have a website with responsive design so it’s accessible from a wide range of mobile devices. A blog is a good way to stay visible on search engines and keep supporters engaged, and mailing lists are also an option. Connecting with digital media, meanwhile, can be a great way of reaching out to potential new supporters.
One frequently overlooked advantage that digitally engaged charities enjoy is the ability to organize telecommuting. This can be used for numerous purposes such as meetings and publicity addresses, but it’s also useful because it means that charities don’t need to have all their key personnel in the same geographical area. This makes it much easier to find sought-after skills such as financial management, especially for charities based in remote areas where there are few professional people living locally. Digital communications also help charities to be more responsive by providing an extra means of contact when discussions need to be held quickly, and the option of communicating at speed in writing opens up more administrative opportunities to the deaf and hard of hearing.
Charities, like businesses, can always work more effectively when they understand more about their supporters. Database technology and the ease with which questionnaires can be created online makes it much easier for them to create and analyze records today than in the past. This means that campaigns can be constructed around what’s most likely to appeal to specific demographics, generating more effective results. At the same time, charities can more easily identify the specific needs of the people, animals or places they’re there to help, so that they can provide a more effective service.
When tech leadership meets charity
When the CEO of DocuSign, Keith Krach, who also happens to be a former General Motors vice president and the founder of Ariba, took an interest in doing charitable work, he realized that digital campaigning could make a big difference to solving the housing crisis in developing countries. Launched at Keith Krach House, the non-profit initiative, New Story, connects donors online with families who need new homes, helping to build the personal connections that inspire ongoing support. For Krach, the key was the understanding that technology isn’t an end in itself – its value lies in connecting people.
What the future holds
Over time, we can expect charities to get better at digital work if only because individuals are improving their digital skills. Children are picking up these skills at school and growing up with the understanding that keeping them up to date is vital to their personal success. Improvements in areas like security, data processing and telecommuting technology are streamlining what charities are able to do and creating new options all the time.
With this in mind, it has never been more important for charity organizers to think about what digital opportunities could do for them. Developing strategies now means that even if they have to wait for the personnel they need to bring them to fruition, they’ll be ready to go as soon as the opportunity presents itself.