We answer your questions on how to maintain charity operations in the face of COVID-19
Over the course of a few weeks, the world has changed beyond recognition.
COVID-19 and the subsequent UK-wide lockdown has forced UK charities to adapt - and adapt quickly. With the sector facing an existential threat, many UK charities have displayed great ingenuity in digitising everything from fundraising to service delivery.
We’ve all had to make the switch to remote working with very little notice. Many charities at the early stages of their digital journey may find the sudden and forced upheaval intimidating.
Although adopting new digital technologies, methods and procedures can be daunting, many of these obstacles can be overcome with a little guidance and the benefit of experience.
That’s why we asked our audience to submit any questions they might have regarding digital in the wake of COVID-19. Our whole team has pitched in to help build this guide of tips and best practice advice for non-profit organisations during these unprecedented and challenging times.
This is a live document and will be updated as we receive more questions. Questions have been edited for clarity.
We are looking for a lower cost alternative to our current live webchat. Can you recommend one?
- Tess from PKD Charity
We can recommend two!
With an increasing focus on remote working, a ’big two’ is emerging when it comes to staying connected.
Zoom is perhaps the most famous video-conferencing platform in the world right now. Their cloud-based system is easy to use, quick to set-up and is available as both a free or paid service.
Microsoft Teams is Microsoft’s all-encompassing workstream collaboration and communication platform – it’s meetings, chats, calls, and file sharing with the Office 365 application stack to bring everyone.
Now, in many ways, Microsoft Teams and Zoom both overlap and compete in the way that they offer a set of services for video conferencing. When it comes to features, both Zoom and Teams enable online meetings, chats, calls, screen sharing, and file sharing. Both have their advantages.
Microsoft’s integration between Teams and its Office 365 stack enables Microsoft Teams to truly be a one-stop-shop for many organizations. This allows for seamless collaboration, backups, and file search.
Whereas many Zoom users enjoy its simple interface and the ability to get end-users up and running with little to no training or IT support. Really it comes down to which is the right fit for your charity.
We are looking at which digital platforms are most secure to be able to do 121 therapy with clients. Are any better than others? At the moment we are considering Zoom or Whatsapp, but any support on security of such platforms would be great
Zoom and WhatsApp are good options. Zoom is end to end encrypted but when using video you need to make sure you have the correct settings. There are more secure platforms that maybe should be considered like Microsoft teams or Wire but these do not come with a freemium option.
My manager has been participating in conference calls several times per week since we were all sent home to work. The organisation starting these calls is using a company called powwownow. In order for us to log into those calls, we have to pay 15p per minute. I’m certain that there are better ways of doing conference calls that aren’t exorbitant in cost. Can you advise?
- Molly Zacharias from Displaced People in Action
Yes. There are multiple options out there. We have had a high demand for Zoom on our product exchange program and internally we also use Microsoft Teams. Both have recording options and a monthly/yearly fee that will quickly come under your current costs.
What is the best way to send a broadcast text message (i.e. like Mailchimp for mobile)? We are trying to find the best way to get our partner charities whom we serve with food to update us real-time on their status (open or forced to close). Emails don’t seem to be opened by staff. These are people running shelters and soup kitchens, who are at the best of times too busy to respond to emails.
There are mass texting platforms out there that offer differing levels of capabilities and functions, but most seem to support more mass marketing than the information sharing and conversational element you’re requiring. I think WhatsApp or even something like Facebook messenger / Facebook group could be a useful way of dealing with this. If you have phone number data already then you can create WhatsApp groups with on-site staff and volunteers to easily communicate with them on their mobile devices. Also, platforms like Teams and Slack will require download/sign-up but offer additional functionality like doc sharing and project management if needed.
Can anyone recommend a good platform such as Microsoft Teams, or Slack? We are in a tricky situation where we, as a team, want to communicate share files and make conference calls. But we also want to open up to other organisations so we can coordinate a community volunteer scheme.
I’m asking if anyone has any practical experience of a similar situation. Simplicity is the key as we want this to be something the harder to reach groups with low IT skills are comfortable using. Has anyone used Facebook Workplace extensively, could that be less intimidating?
- Craig from Barnsley CVS
Microsoft Teams is great for messaging and sharing files and has a good conference call ability. Asana, Slack & Trello are good for project management. You need to make groups inside Teams that work a specific way. Project management tools only work if you can follow what others are doing. Setting guidelines on how to use the app is just as important as which tool you choose.
We have people working from home using a variety of hardware and software, many of whom are not very digitally confident and wary of downloading anything that might cause a problem to their machines.
Is there a simple messaging tool we can all use to keep in touch that can work across different machines and is easy to access? I want to avoid anything on the phone like WhatsApp as we are using our phones to speak to clients.
Microsoft Teams is one of the best systems for messaging colleagues. We have a webinar on how to make the most of this. If you have an IT person we suggest getting them to help not only to install a messenger app but to check their system is secure.
Can you give us some advice on creating a virtual coffee morning? This will be for our volunteers and service users.
- Dalia Halpern-Matthews from Medway Voluntary Action
First, get everyone set up on a good platform - we use Zoom. Then, even though it’s coffee, have some kind of game plan. We like to start by answering three questions:
1. Whats is something you have done to be creative?
2. Whats is something you are concerned about?
3. Say something silly and fun. You can also use hand gestures to agree/disagree or raise the next point, which helps with the flow of conversation
As a tiny (6 staff) charity, who run activities in the community for disadvantaged people, like everyone else, we want to continue some of our groups online. However, when looking at meeting options, there are so many and it is hard to know which ones would be most suitable.
What is not clear on many platforms is if software and or accounts need to installed/registered by a user in order to access video interaction. Costs are a major issue, so guidance on cost/benefits would be very useful. For us even £10pm is important. Most staff and users are ignorant of technology yet have smartphones or tablets so the ability to get them accessing video meetings very simply is critical.
There are a number of freemium options in the market such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. With a low budget, it may be worth creating one account for a person who is in the most meetings. Installing most of these apps on smartphones is fairly simple. However, it’s worth walking people through this so that you can ensure they understand security measures when working remotely, especially when with dealing with people’s private information.
We are trying to find the best method of having video conference calls. We have relied heavily internally on the non-business skype for years and people always default to this. We have access to join.me which we pay for, but people struggle to set it up as you need logins etc. Should we use Teams/Zoom which it seems many have been suggesting? We use MS office and SharePoint currently and we also have quite a lot of staff that are reluctant to use tech solutions so it needs to be simple!
- Jo Gordon from SafeLives
We use both Teams and Zoom and find them both easy to use. However, since you’re already using MS Office, Teams might be a simpler tie-in. You can use it on a desktop or on the app and can easily set up meetings that integrate with the Office calendar. It will also be a lot simpler for doc sharing and management.
We are considering using Zoom to do video advice and counselling with children and young people. I read today that the MOD was questioning it’s security - should we proceed?
- Annabel Hodgson from No Limits
There is nothing to indicate that Zoom is any less secure than other digital services. However, nothing is ever 100% safe. Ensuring all you have up to date anti-virus software and that employees are trained to spot phishing and protect themselves against hackers is vital.
How can we set up for remote working at low cost? We use Office 365 NFP and emails are via Outlook. None of us are IT-savvy and, as a small charity, we can’t afford to buy in expertise from large IT organisations.
- Louise from Marches Family Network
Office 365 NFP subscriptions should entitle you to many of the tools you need to work remotely - such as Microsoft Teams. When you purchase one of these subscriptions, what you’re buying is a license for the user - rather than a desktop system. Depending on your subscription level, you should be entitled to work across a number of devices. We would advise that you check the details of your subscription to find out what you are entitled to.
I work in fundraising and I was wondering if anyone had any experience/advice about ’virtual events’?
- Pippa from BeyondAutism
Yes, We host a webinar once every two weeks using Zoom!
Ian McLintock wrote a guest article outlining advice and guidance. We also published our own tips here. This article covers everything you need to get started - from explaining the basics to covering various platforms and forms of fundraising events.
Lastly, charity partners Blackbaud Europe published a free online resource on getting started with virtual event, which you can view here.
I would like guidance on asking staff to use their own laptops for logging into remote working, and their mobiles for calls whilst homeworking. Plus the extra advice on data protection.
This can be difficult. With the drastic changes we’ve seen in recent weeks, getting physical tech can be a challenge. Security is important: a cloud system like Avast is incredibly helpful as you can do it without physically touching the product.
We’ve also published a list of practical steps individuals can take to keep their remote systems secure.
I am a charity fundraiser for Hospice at Home West Cumbria and due to Covid 19 I am currently working from home and trying to come up with other ways to fundraise - I would like to set up a text to donate service. which one would you recommend?
- Gemma from Hospice at Home West Cumbria
There are multiple text to donate options: the best way to choose an option is to plan your campaign and budget first. This will help rule our a number of options. It’s also important to take into account how much time is required to set this up. We have worked with Donr, Supported Giving and Give as you Live.
We have set up a volunteering service including staff and other organisations. I’m looking for a means of sharing information on who requires what, can we help, who is helping, follow up calls. Basically a reasonably ’Live’ database shared with all interested parties. We don’t have Office 365. Anyone overcame this issue?
- James McGeough from Elderpark Housing Association
It really depends on the level of sophistication or collaboration you want to have with staff/volunteers. If it’s just communication to share docs in then WhatsApp would be great. There is also Slack, which allows for some level of project management as well. Since you don’t have Office 365, Microsoft Teams won’t be much use to you, although based on your requirement it might be best for you given its tie-in with SharePoint (live collaboration documents, spreadsheets, etc.) and the need to communicate them. It would be useful to understand what systems you do have in place to help you further?
Can I still buy Microsoft 365 outright through Charity Digital or does it have to be through a monthly subscription?
- Maureen Geraghty from Strathaven and Madurai Mercy Home
Microsoft Office 365 is a cloud-based programme and can only be accessed through monthly cloud subscription. With this model, you purchase a subscription for the users, as opposed to a more traditional desktop license.
unfortunately, this does mean that you will need a monthly subscription. However, this subscription is available to charities at a discounted rate. You can register or check eligibility here.
I’m trying to set up Google G-Suite for Non-profit. I’ve verified our domain and it’s now asking for a validation token. I’ve had a look on my account, but can’t seem to find it anywhere. Would you be able to provide me with a link for this, please?
- Henry Leonard from Radstock Museum
To obtain a validation token you will first need to register with Charity Digital Exchange. Once you have been qualified as a charity you can obtain the token through your account. Here is a link with instructions to access the Validation token for Google NFP.
I am the admin for a new Community Interest Company and I want to receive a validation token in order to use Google for nonprofit enrolment. However, I’m not sure how I go about doing this as Charity Digital doesn’t recognise the registration number as we aren’t a charity.
- Chloe Cameron from Parenting Apart Centre East
As per the Companies Act 2004, a Community Interest Company can be a company limited by shares OR a company limited by guarantee with share capital (or not). It can also be established for charitable purposes and can distribute assets to its members should there be a provision for them to do so.
For these reasons, CICs are not eligible for the program at this time. Whilst our organisation would prefer to include CICs and greatly appreciate the work that you do for your service users, we are currently unable to verify your organisation as eligible until we have a way to incorporate some, rather than all, types of CICs, based on the definition outlined above.
We currently use Spiceworks for our Helpdesk system but are finding it is not really suitable for our needs as we are working from home and now we have to use VPN to connect. We would prefer to use something that could be accessed directly from the web. Could you give me some Ideas of a system that could be accessed by our global admin team without the need for VPN access?
- Liam Jarvis from Maines Advisory Group
An alternative to Spiceworks would be Zendesk. Zendesk offers a relatively similar functionality to its competitor, so may be able to perform the same functions for you. They also offer remote helpdesk software that may suit your organisation’s needs.
Help us to help you by submitting your question for us to answer. Whether you’re having issues with remote working, service delivery, online fundraising or any other aspect of digital charity operations, we are here to help!
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