We look at how digitisation will define the next generation of service delivery
Nine-in-ten charities say the pandemic has negatively affected their ability to complete objectives, according to a survey from Pro Bono Economic. One of the most challenging issues facing charities is service delivery, as the sudden inability to deliver regular face-to-face services due to social distancing restrictions creates difficulties.
But as we moved through 2020, it became clear that many charities were able to digitise service delivery, finding innovative ways to reach people. Some charities moved service delivery to Zoom, maintaining regular contact with people in need. Others focussed efforts online, with digital support groups and hubs, information packs, and other free services.
Social distancing restrictions have defined service delivery in 2020. Many of the changes in service delivery that have emerged since the emergence of COVID-19 will certainly continue in the future, as charities are realising the benefits of digital service delivery.
Charities have experienced a period of accelerated digitisation in 2020. Digital technology has been integral to charities’ ability to function during the pandemic, allowing them to provide much-need services despite their inability to provide services in-person.
The adaptation was perhaps a little slow to start, but charities soon found their feet. And there have been plenty of success stories. Shooting Star Children’s Hospices, for example, have created support groups via Zoom and developed an online ‘hub’ on their website, offering fun activities and resources for children with life-limiting conditions.
The National Childbirth Trust has moved antenatal classes online, providing mums-to-be with an effective service from the comfort of their homes. The charity also focussed on delivering up-to-date and essential information on their website, including resources to help women understand how COVID-19 might affect pregnancy and the early stages of parenthood.
St Barnabas Hospice put together a digital bereavement guide and aimed to provide individual support, including meetings, over the phone or over Zoom. In May 2020, the charity teamed up with bereavement support specialists Guardian Angel to launch a free online and telephone service to support people who needed to make a will during lockdown.
All these charities and many more have showed that shifting to digital does not prevent effective service delivery. And many charities have noticed the immediate advantages.
The limitations of in-person service delivery can minimise the reach of certain charities, depending on the nature of the charity. Homelessness charities, for example, have struggled with digital service delivery, as the service they provide is predominantly in-person.
But other charities have found that the shift to digital actually increases their reach. Charity staff were quick to realise that digital tools, such as Zoom, Slack, Miro, Monday, Trello, Asana, and Microsoft Teams, help to provide effective service delivery without face-to-face contact. These tools will be used in the future, regardless of social distancing restrictions.
Using online channels for service delivery has allows digital leaders to reach new audiences, audiences that are more naturally dependent on the digital. Charities increased the use of social media, dedicated greater resources to websites, and some even put out guidance and information using new formats, such as podcasts, webinars, and video content.
Auditory Verbal UK are one of many charities that shifted to digital services so they could continue to deliver auditory and verbal therapy sessions for deaf children. They moved quickly to adopt digital elements and consequently extended their overall reach.
The charity is based in London, but since social distancing restrictions were put in place they began serving people beyond the capital who might not have been able afford the cost of travelling to access services.
In the future, charities will likely combine digital service delivery with necessary in-person service delivery, allowing them to extend their reach even wider and maintain vital services.
Saving time and money
Digitising service delivery can save time and money. One of the disadvantages of in-person service delivery is the potential cost to both the charity and the person the charity is serving.
Either party may need to travel, which can be costly and time-consuming. The travel costs could be better spent on other services, especially if the service could be supplied digitally.
Charities can reach more people with simple and cost-efficient measures, such as providing necessary information on websites, utilising social media, and having effective resources accessible to all.
Many charities are going one-step further, adopting self-service-led models that can help as many people as possible with minimum expenditure. The models offer automated services that require no expenditure for the charity and can help with users’ needs.
Self-service tools bring other benefits, too. They are convenient for users who want to access support in the evening or at weekends, rather than during working hours. And they can help people who would rather not have an in-person interaction.
Self-service tools do limit the personal touch, which if often essential for some service users. But charities can offer self-service tools in concert with delivering in-person services, reaching more people and continuing to deliver the appropriate support.