Charity trustees should always be looking for ways to squeeze the maximum benefit from any funds raised.
Thanks to the surge of digital advances recently, there are more ways than ever to do just that. Cost shouldn’t be a barrier to improvement any more, and nor should a lack of expertise.
Of course, it’s all well and good saying that, but the reality is that you need to know where to start and how to prioritise, and even then, some work is required to find out what would actually benefit your charity.
To make the process slightly easier, we’ve put together some practical steps to follow:
How to work out what IT you need
Firstly, you need to get out of the mindset that IT strategy is separate to your overall strategy.
The problem with having a standalone IT strategy is that it can lead to an approach involving a checklist of things that you should be doing but aren’t and a focus on how much it will all cost (which is always fairly demoralising).
Instead, think about your own charity first and foremost, with IT only coming into the equation after you’ve sorted out what it is that you do.
Generally speaking, to work out the best way of moving your charity forwards:
1. Think about your mission
What is your charity trying to achieve?
2. Think about your strategy
What is the best/most effective way to reach your goals?
3. Think about what’s essential for your organisation
E.g. do you need to be particularly careful around data security? Or are low costs your main consideration? Or do you need to work across different devices or from different places?
4. Think about the difficulties
What day-to-day problems slow down your charity’s work the most?
5. Think about solutions
Once you know the best strategy to achieve your mission, have identified your pain points and have criteria listed that a new solution would need to meet, then there are two paths you can follow to improve how your charity functions:
- Look at your worst pain points and then look for ways to remedy them.
- Look at how other organisations are using technology in new ways and think about what your charity can develop that it hadn’t previously done.
Choosing the best software
Especially with the pain-point-remedy method, it’s easy to improve how effectively your charity works with small steps.
1. Decide what your most significant pain point is
2. Research solutions to that pain point
If you don’t already know the sorts of things that are available and would help, do a bit of research on the difficulty itself to throw up suggestions. Once you know what’s available, then you can start looking for reviews and comparisons within that area.
There are a number of tech comparison sites using fields like ‘accounting software’ or ‘CRM’, for example. Here are just a few of the largest:
- charitydigitalnews.co.uk/marketplace (much smaller, but specifically for charities)
Make a long-list of products from that, then narrow them down further using review sites, of which there are hundreds. Some of the broader and more reputable include:
- pcmag.com/reviews/smb (specifically useful for small business software)
If you know anyone who’s already using something you’re considering, make sure you ask them about their experiences too.
3. Judge potential solutions against your core values
Pick the 5-6 products with the best reviews and judge them against your needs, e.g.
- Impact – how much would the software help your charity achieve its mission?
- Cost – are there upfront costs? Would you be tied to a long-term contract?
- Difficulty to adopt/use – how easy will it be to make sure everyone within your organisation can use it?
- Risk – how secure is it? What would the risk be if something went wrong?
4. Use a trial period to test each potential solution
Before your decide on one, get a few people in the organisation to trial each product on your shortlist. That will give you an idea of how easy it is to use in practice, how good the support is and how well it integrates with your other systems, which can be difficult to ascertain just from reviews.
5. Make a decision
By this point, you’ll know what features are essential for your charity. You’ll know which ones are the easiest to use in practice. Plus, you’ll know how much they all cost.
So all that’s left to do is to simply pick the best one!
Remember – improving with IT should be a transition, not a transformation. Anything you adopt doesn’t need to be perfect, just better than your current situation.
Choosing the best hardware for your charity
Compared to software, it’s not as easy to have a trial on hardware, or sign a contract without upfront costs.
Thankfully, the review sites that I listed above also have massive sections on hardware. Plus there are loads more (as a quick Google search will show you).
Hardware best practice
A lot of charities tend to take a short-term view on IT. That’s not actually too much of a problem with software, because it’s really quick and easy to change to something new these days. But with hardware, once you’ve bought it, you’ve got it and you’re obliged to use it for as long as you can.
From our experience, charities are better off and will save money in the long run if they go for decent, new equipment instead of older, refurbished kit. There are a few reasons for this:
The rate of progress in the past twenty years has been such that the top-of-the-range products today can become obsolete just a few years later. Older equipment will work fine for a time, but it will naturally need replacing earlier than newer models. While it might be cheaper initially to get refurbished products, the cost of repeated updates usually outweighs the cost of buying something once and using it for longer.
Newer machines are usually more secure than their older counterparts. For example, modern Macs come with inbuilt encryption software that protects sensitive files even if the device is stolen, whereas older ones don’t.
Technology really has come a long way in a short time. New desktop computers, tablets and other devices are much faster than they used to be. Think how long it takes you to load a Word document. Not long? But if you do that 20 times a day, every day, then the time adds up. Less time spent waiting does after all mean more time you can spend getting on with the work that really matters.
Decisions on servers
The discussion here should be “why not the cloud” now rather than “why a server”.
The main complaint with the cloud is a lack of security, but the weakest link will always be users with weak passwords, insecure file backups, etc., regardless of where the data is stored.
It might cost more money for extra bandwidth, but is it any more expensive than the cost of keeping extra office space? What cost do you attribute when servers break down?
A final thought
Technology has come a very long way in a very short space of time, and the charities that have ridden the wave have been successful thanks to it.
At Charity Digital, we’ve streamlined the way that we process expenses by following the steps above, which has given us more time to focus on other things.
On a larger scale, recent studies have shown that digitally mature UK charities are more than twice as likely to see an increase in funding than low-digital-maturity charities.
Hopefully, following the steps above will help you work more effectively, which will make a real difference to your good cause.
- Related post: Digital uptake in the charity sector
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