We explore four strategies that charities of all sizes can employ to improve their digital transformation
The Coronavirus epidemic has brought into stark relief the contrast between charities who have made some progress on their journey of digital transformation and those that have yet to make any significant steps.
That’s because the charities that have gone digital in a significant way have been better able to cope with the disruptions to their fundraising, service delivery, and other activities caused by restrictions during 2020.
But even before the pandemic stuck, the benefits of digital transformation were recognized and understood, both in the charity sector and more generally in the business world. That’s why 50% of all technology spending during the next few years will be used to fund digital transformation, according to IDC.
For a charity just starting out on the path to digital transformation, the task can be bewildering. It is therefore important to have a clear vision of what you want your digital transformation to achieve.
Rather than try to digitally transform every area of your charity at once, it is more manageable to employ a strategy of transforming a single area of your charity’s activities at a time.
Here are four different digital strategies that charities can successfully employ.
This is perhaps the most basic digital strategy, which involves setting up a charity website and presences on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
The key purpose of this strategy is to increase the reach of the charity. But having a comprehensive digital presence also enables charities to carry out marketing and communications, to raise awareness in the cause it supports, and to publicise its events and activities.
Almost all but the very smallest of charities have a web site. And a huge range of charities, including London Air Ambulance (Twitter), Macmillan Cancer Support (Facebook) and the RNLI (Instagram), use social media presences to publicise the impact of their work and to communicate with supporters.
There are many website platforms that charities can use to create a web presence and social media platforms such as Lightful, which is designed specifically for social good, allow charities to manage their social media presences in as little as twenty minutes a day.
Whereas a digital presence strategy is primarily about increasing awareness, pursuing a digitally enabled services strategy allows your charity to offer services digitally. They can be delivered from your charity website, but increasingly charities are commissioning or designing their own mobile apps.
One example of this is the British Red Cross app, which lets users access first aid advice wherever they are. The app also has interactive quizzes, videos, and guides that are designed to increase first aid skills.
Another example is Breast Cancer Now’s Becca app, which offers instant support, online resources and key tips to help people who are recovering from breast cancer treatment.
Many larger charities choose to use a digital agency to build and maintain their app, but the cost of this professional approach may be beyond the resources of smaller charities. The good news is that there are a number of platforms which enable charities to build and release their own apps without any specialist coding knowledge.
Appy Builder, for example, is a free drag and drop app creator originally built by programmers at MIT. The App Institute also provides a platform specifically designed for non-profit organisations to build their own apps, by simply using pre-loaded templates for things like donations and sign-ups.
The idea of charities being involved in ecommerce is now new: Oxfam was the first UK charity to open an online charity shop back in 2007. But the Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how important it can be. Charities that have digital transaction capabilities have been able to continue to raise funds for their causes through online sales even when they have been forced to close high street charity shops.
What’s more, the Charity Retail Association says that online stores help charities reach a higher selling price for unusual or high-value goods.
Some charities build online sales functionality into their websites, but for charities starting out with a digital transactions strategy it can be easier to use a third-party retail platform, such as eBay or Amazon. Many well-known charities such as British Heart Foundation, CLIC Sargent, Royal British Legion, and Cancer Research UK use eBay as a platform on which to build their own dedicated online charity shops.
Of course digital transactions are not restricted to retail activities. One of the most important first steps that any charity should take when they establish a digital presence through a web site is to make it easy for site visitors to make online donations via a "donate now" button.
This strategy is concerned with developing a digital community of supporters and service users – who can be anywhere in the world – to participate in digital fundraising events and other online activities which raise awareness in your charity and its services.
Charities of all sizes can organise a huge variety of online events – a few recent examples include: