With further restriction of movement a likely outcome, we explore some of the best examples of innovative digital service delivery for charities, and provide ideas to get started.
As charity professionals face an unprecedented situation, many are turning to digital methods to continue service delivery. Digital technology can help you to stay connect to service users, and to find new ways of providing support and care.
It’s not all just about back-office systems - when it comes to running more efficient services and delivering information in new ways, digital can be really level the playing field for charities.
These tools and platforms can help charities use digital for their service delivery and help people through the channels they want to be reached on, without the mega-budgets you’d expect.
The last few years have seen an influx of amazing charity apps that support people with tailored information, such as Breast Cancer Care’s award-winning BECCA app, which gives women moving on from breast cancer a one-stop-shop of bitesize tips on lifestyle and self-care that they can keep at their fingertips.
What this app shows is that don’t need jazzy technology to create an incredibly useful and well-loved resource for your service users. All you need is to curate the expert content you already have, and respond to how people want to use it, starting with identifying the support gap where people could really benefit from your content.
There are a number of platforms out there for charities to build and release their own apps without any knowledge of coding, so they can get experimenting with their own. Appy Builder, for example, is a free drag and drop app creator originally built by programmers at MIT.
The App Institute is a platform specifically for non-profit organisations to build their own apps, by using pre-loaded templates for things like donations and sign-ups. Or you can hire their experts to build it for you.
If you don’t want to build your own app, but want to make use of the many great apps already out there serving information that could be useful to your service users, you could collate your own app library for people to explore from your website.
This is what Parkinsons UK did, by linking up with digital health information verification organisation Our Mobile Health to create a list of mobile apps they recommend for people with Parkinsons.
Chatbots can seem a bit gimmicky, but they can actually be a really useful and time-saving way of answering the most common questions from service users. It is simply a different way of presenting information that can save staff and volunteers valuable time answering queries, and help users to identify the right information from a charity’s website, any time of the day or night.
For example, the Ally chatbot helps housing associations, councils and housing-related charities to guide users through the sometimes complicated process of applying for housing or related benefits. Organisations can put the chatbot on their website, social media and soon voice assistants like Alexa.
Charities can make use of existing chatbots like these that are free to use, or build their own that makes use of their own expert information and advice. Chatfuel is a platform that lets charities build their own bots on Facebook messenger, without any technical know-how.
Greenpeace built their ’climate change chatbot’ through the platform and have had great success raising awareness about their cause on Facebook Messenger.
There are plenty of other chatbot development platforms for the non-coder.
A YouTube video library can be a simple but effective way of crowd-sourcing insight and wisdom that’s for and by the people you help, and it’s totally free. It can turn your charity’s digital presence into an online community.
Diabetes UK is a great example of a charity that has brought people together through digital, and they’ve done it without having to create anything fancy from scratch. Their Digital Stories scheme encourages people with diabetes to share their experiences, challenges and everyday life tips to a video library using YouTube, which appears on the charity’s website.
Many charities are helping their service users learn through information webinars, which people can log into from their own homes and interact with live. All they need is a device with an internet connection and access to a microphone.
MS Society’s ’Living well with MS’ sessions are a brilliant example, helping people with MS connect with experts and other people in the same boat to share life tips and get information they can trust.
Thinking of hosting your own webinars? WebEx and GoToWebinar are just a couple of the platforms available.
Mobile messaging platform WhatsApp is the UK’s number one app in terms of monthly users. A small Lancashire non-profit, The Well, which supports 6,648 people a year with a staff of just 19 people and 30 volunteers, realised its potential as a peer-to-peer support network for people with drug and alcohol addiction.
The service is able to help support people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, often outside office hours, connecting some of the most isolated and vulnerable people over the chat app.
Thanks to a grant from Comic Relief they were able to solicit the help of charity digital designers Platypus Digital to turn the WhatsApp chat into a fully-fledged app of its own.