We look at some simple questions that will help charities plan a digital project
This article is sponsored by Amazon Web Services (AWS), a provider of reliable, scalable and flexible cloud computing services.
Charities are facing a number of challenges during COVID-19, including the loss of in-person fundraising events, the inability to offer face-to-face services, and economic pressures on donors. The impact on fundraising and service delivery has been huge.
According to a Charities Aid Foundation report, for example, 53% of charities have experienced a decline in giving during COVID-19. In addition, 36% of charities suggest that they’ve experienced an increase in demand for services.
It’s a double-edged sword. Many charities are facing a decline in fundraising at the precise moment that demand for their services is highest.
But adopting digital can help. In 2020, the charity sector experienced an extraordinary process of digital transformation. We saw the transition from physical events to virtual ones. We witnessed in-person fundraising swiftly digitised and moved online. We saw service delivery offered through automated self-help services, websites, and one-on-one Zoom sessions. In 2021, we expect a continuation of these trends, even as social distancing restrictions are eased.
Digital projects are designed to provide solutions to problems, ensuring charities can continue to raise funds and deliver essential services. And the process of digitisation offers additional benefits, too. Digital projects allow charities to increase reach, minimise expenditure, automate services for low-risk users, and re-direct time and funds towards the most essential services.
Many charities have found success with digital projects. But embracing digital requires preparation and planning. Charities should ask themselves a series of questions before getting started to ensure that they are adequately prepared for the digital journey.
Each charity will face different challenges. Charities working with homeless service users, for example, will need to ensure they do not excluse any service users without access to digital. Charities typically reliant on physical events for fundraising will need to find a digital project to smooth the transition to virtual spaces.
Digital projects must be user-focused. Charities should consider the primary needs of their users and create a digital project with those needs in mind. AWS advocate the ‘working backwards’ model. Charities should start by identifying the needs of service users and supporters and then work backwards from there.
Decisions around digital projects, tools, and general solutions should be made with the intention of addressing the challenges users face. Charities should ask themselves how their digital project helps to overcome those challenges.
Taking stock of your current resources, along with understanding user needs, will likely highlight a digital vacuum. It will show the digital areas where charities need improvement, as well as demonstrating the areas where you are spending unnecessary time and money.
Taking stock of resources will essentially show you where your digital project should focus.
Charities should ask themselves questions to gauge their current capabilities. These questions might include:
Decide what you are missing. Consider gaps in your digital offering. Compare your current capabilities and your user’s needs. Can you streamline any services? Is there any room for improvement? Are there any opportunities to raise additional funds?
These questions will help you plan your digital project.
After you’ve understood user needs and taken stock of your current resources, you should have a good idea of the direction of your digital project. At that point, the task at hand is to choose the right tech to ensure the project is a success.
An important decision is whether you purchase out-of-the-box solutions, or you build your own bespoke tech. The choice of tech is always unique to each individual charity, but there are some general rules that might help.
Larger charities tend to build. They often require bespoke software to achieve their goals and lots of larger charities need precise customisations. Building has obvious benefits, including complete customisation, full control over the user journey, and more scope for capturing data and analytics. The downside, however, is that building tech can be costly.
Smaller charities on a tighter budget often benefit from buying out-of-the-box software. They often have no need to splash out on expensive build options when cheaper and easy-to-use solutions already exist. It is vital to research and choose the best option to meet user needs.
Software as a service (Saas) is a good choice for smaller charities. SaaS is a cloud-based service that runs on your internet browser. Digital offerings include office software, communication and collaboration apps, and much more.
Most SaaS products offer free trials, pay as you go options, integrated application programming interfaces, and live upgrades. Smaller charities can trial services before purchase and determine what works best for them.
Lots of SaaS products also offer some form of customisation, though charities are unlikely to achieve the same degree of adaptability and flexibility that comes with built tech.
You have grasped service user needs, taken stock of current resources, and decided on the digital tools to improve service delivery or general operations. Now a new journey begins.
Digital projects should be ever-evolving. You need to test digital tools to ensure they’re effective and providing adequate return on investment. You should examine the data, take note of the changes, and decide whether more changes or customisations are required.
Don’t be afraid to fail. If the digital project doesn’t meet expectations in some areas, that’s fine. Each supposed failure represents an opportunity for growth, an opportunity to learn.
The most succesful digital projects are evolutionary. They meet the demands and challenges and continually find improvements. You should double-down on successes and learn from any mistakes. It’s an ongoing process, one that means returning to the drawing board if necessary.
Charities need to adapt to meet the demands of the ‘new normal’ and digital should be at the heart of that adaptation. Planning and developing a digital project will be essential. Whether you want to improve the performance of donor-facing websites, gain deeper insights from data, personalise communications, or improve digital services, AWS can help.
AWS has a dedicated team in the UK that supports charities to meet their digital needs, providing all the necessary tools to enhance your digital offering, whether you are aiming to improve fundraising, engagement, or service delivery.
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