We explore some of the changes in the charity sector since the first COVID-19 lockdown began and look at the digital trends that will continue into the future
On 16 March 2020, the government announced the first lockdown. Social distancing restrictions followed, people entered bubbles, and charity professionals began working from home. On 16 March 2021, one long and difficult year later, we are in a similar position.
But hope is well and truly on the horizon. The vaccine programme is in full swing, with more than 23 million people in the UK receiving the first dose. The number of deaths and cases are in decline and the easing of social distancing restriction is just around the corner.
As we look to the future, as we start to emerge into a world with a touch more certainty, it’s important that charities learn from the successes of the past year. Since the arrival of COVID-19, the charity sector has experienced a period of digital transformation. It has proved strong and resilient, able to meet digital demands and rise to the challenges of the moment.
Many of the shifts that we saw in 2020 will continue well into the future. Post-COVID-19 tech trends are likely to be a mix of the past and the present. Many charities will likely take a hybrid approach to service delivery, fundraising, and events, all of which we’ll discuss below.
Nine-in-ten charities say the pandemic has negatively affected the ability to complete objectives, according to a survey from Pro Bono Economic. Service delivery is particularly important in that regard, as it is so essential for users. Many charities can afford to neglect admin responsibilities, for example, but cannot easily put service delivery on pause.
Charity professionals have been quick to adapt. Many realised that digital tools could provide effective service delivery in the absence of face-to-face contact. Charity professionals jumped on Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams to offer support and guidance to users.
Some charities utilised videoconferencing to create support groups and offer online classes. Others focussed attention on websites and social media to raise awareness and give essential information. Others adopted virtual reality and AI to provide services that were usually performed in-person. Some charities offered virtual tours and virtual performances, and others used automated bots to help with redirection and support.
Charities took different approaches, shifting service delivery to the most appropriate avenue. And many charities noticed some huge benefits to that shift. Charities have been able to increase their reach, for example, finding new audiences unrestricted by geographical limitations. Charities also saved time and money, as certain virtual services do not require the same maintenance or expenditure.
Charities in the future will likely adopt a hybrid approach to service delivery. They can decide which services require in-person commitments and which can be delivered virtually. They can redistribute finances and time between the two forms of service delivery, allowing them to find better solutions to the problems of the day.
Check out our article for more information: How social distancing is shaping service delivery.
Digital fundraising largely took over from the tin bucket in 2020. Lockdowns and social distancing restrictions made street fundraising and physical campaigns near impossible. Charities had to take quick steps to minimise the loss in revenue. The result has been interesting, with the arrival of lots of quirky and innovative digital fundraising campaigns.
The main benefits of digital fundraising are savings to time and money. Digital campaigns are often simple to organise, especially in relation to their physical counterparts. They are often cost-efficient, too, saving the charity money trying to bring people together in-person.
Digital auctions, for example, only require a moderate amount of labour compared to physical auctions. Prize draws are cheap and relatively straightforward to arrange. Crowdfunding only requires small administrative costs, if any. Adding a donation button to your website takes little effort and often costs no money at all. Using text-to-donate again costs a small amount. The same is true with social media, where charities are generating significant sums.
We expect many charities will continue to take forward digital fundraising ideas into the future. It is likely that charities will combine a mixture of physical fundraising and digital fundraising, perhaps saving money on smaller and easy-to-manage campaigns and focussing their attention on arranging very big-ticket campaigns in the physical world.
For more information, check out our article: The essential fundraising trends for 2021.
Lockdowns and social distancing restrictions rendered physical events impossible for large parts of 2020. Many charities again adapted quickly, working out how to use videoconferencing and digital networking platforms to put on succesful virtual events.
Our experience at Charity Digital serves as a good example. In March 2020, just before the first lockdown was announced, we put on a physical conference that was well-received. As the year slowly ticked away, it became increasingly obvious that the 2021 conference would need to be digital. We researched, we organised, and we adapted. And in March 2021, we launched the Charity Digital Virtual Conference 2021, which we felt was a massive success – and, looking at the number of attendees and the feedback, the audience did, too
Other charities had equally succesful experiences with virtual events. The benefits of virtual rather than physical events relate to the benefits of digitisation generally. Virtual events can be easier to organise, cost-efficient, and they circumvent many of the geographical limitations implicit in the physical.
It is likely that many charities will take the successes of virtual events into the future, ensuring at least an element of digital. But, again, it’s likely that a hybrid approach will seem appealing.
Hybrid events were already popular prior to the pandemic. Hybrid events combine in-person events with an online audience, balancing the best aspects of physical and virtual events. We will likely see physical events return with a virtual element. We will also likely see charities offering a mixture of entirely virtual events and physical events, with all of those occasions demanding a large degree of digital.
For some predictions of the future of events, check out: Three predictions for the future of virtual charity events.