We examine how advances in technology and changing working practices will shape the future of charity communications
This article is sponsored by Class Networks – trusted experts in charity sector communications.
2020 was the year the world went digital.
As lockdowns and social distancing restrictions forced us indoors, we truly became digital natives, logging on in search of news, entertainment, and most of all, connection.
Perhaps the biggest change for many of us has been the shift to remote working. Our offices and our homes have merged, as technology has allowed us to maintain these connections while keeping socially distant.
A year down the line from the early days of lockdown 1.0, it is clear that this shift to digital will have lasting consequences. The way we communicate has changed. As we’ve become more used to dealing with digital channels, we have raised our expectations. Charity communications teams are now judged by the same high standards as teams at corporate organisations, even if workers in the non-profit space don’t have the same resources.
At the same time, the importance of charity communications was made clearer than ever. Communications are at the heart of everything charities do. Communications staff are often among the only team members working with both supporters and service users. In this way, they straddle a divide and help to bring an organisation’s mission and work together.
When organisations are delivering services remotely, communications touches every aspect of charity work, from how you interact with service users, to the messaging that goes into fundraising campaigns, to how you and your team interact.
All of these areas are now subject to these raised expectations. Digital technology was already shaping communications before the pandemic. COVID-19 has merely accelerated the process of its adoption.
It has also led to a change in how communications teams are perceived within charity organisations. In the past, there has been a tendency among some leaders to view communications primarily as an expense. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of looking at communications as an investment – as a vital part of an organisation’s digital and operational infrastructure.
We’ve mentioned already that most charities do not have the same resources as large businesses. But they do have access to some of the same resources, such as Microsoft 365 and Teams.
Although the challenges of the future remain uncertain, the importance of good communications to the work charities do is assured. People’s growing digital expectations will continue to define the landscape that charity communications teams work in.
Here are five predictions for how innovations in digital technology will shape the future of charity communications.
Since the onset of the pandemic, new methods of communication have allowed charities to reach more people than ever.
Even small and local charities are no longer restricted to their immediate areas, which brings vast and exciting new possibilities for fundraisers. Charities can expand their reach in unprecedented ways, as social media platforms allow charities to take their message worldwide.
And it’s not just fundraising. This increased uptake in digital communications technology is allowing charities to work with service users who otherwise would be unable to engage with their services, due to factors such as geographic location, expense of travel, impaired mobility or illness.
Innovations in charity communications aren’t just breaking down geographical barriers – they are allowing people to build their own communities around shared interests.
Charities such as Help for Heroes and Women Win have pioneered the move into the charity gaming space. They have used dedicated gaming channels, such as Twitch and Discord, to communicate with socially-conscious gamers and build their own digital communities.
Gaming is just one example. By identifying your audience and establishing your message, you can begin to explore more niche platforms in order to build the right foundations for your campaigns.
If these raised digital expectations could be summarised in a single word, it would be ‘seamless’.
Digital consumers expect a simple and easy ‘all-in-one’ experience. Anything that requires sign-ups to multiple platforms, or complex navigation from one channel to another, will only put off experienced digital users.
This doesn’t just apply to your service users. It applies to your staff too. Remote and hybrid working are difficult enough without having to juggle multiple comms channels, particularly when dealing with urgent or sensitive conversations.
Teams Voice from Class Networks allows users to bring their external voice communications in line with the videoconferencing and instant messaging chat capabilities of Microsoft Teams. Teams Voice lets organisations make and receive external calls through Microsoft Teams. This solution can take the place of their existing phone system, saving charities time and money.
Teams Voice fully integrates with the Microsoft Teams Mobile app, allowing charity staff to work on mobile devices with the same security, flexibility and functionality as their office or laptop-based counterparts.
By including all your communications solutions in one channel, you can meet these expectations and set your comms team up for future success.
These benefits aren’t just limited to volunteers. Charities can also benefit from more efficient use of paid workers.
The charity sector is a diverse pool of people. All these people have their own distinct needs and will require different support to thrive. Digital communications technologies (whether internal or external) can help provide the flexibility charity staff require to deliver their best work.
People with family commitments, health conditions, or mobility issues will be better able to work in remote or hybrid models. Now that charities have built the internal infrastructure to support these methods of working, the sector can benefit from a wider talent pool than before, without many of the traditional barriers to employment.
People can work securely at any time, from anywhere and across any device, thanks to solutions like Microsoft 365, Microsoft Teams and Teams Voice.
We are even seeing early reports of charities jettisoning expensive office space, as digital technology empowers remote workers to build new working methods.
Volunteers are the life and soul of the charity sector. Their selfless hard work is what sets the sector apart from the corporate world. Without their contributions, many organisations would not be able to function.
Yet for all their importance, discussions of developments in the sector can often bypass the contributions of volunteers.
In the age of digital service delivery, however, these contributions are impossible to overlook. Innovative digital communications tools allow volunteers to man helplines and deliver services from the comfort of their own homes, and at a time that suits them. This not only means that more people will be able to volunteer, but that charities will benefit from valuable digital skills.
Digital technology can act as a leveller in many ways. By empowering volunteers with greater flexibility and choice, the widespread embrace of digital communications technology can amplify the contributions of volunteers and restore them to the forefront of the sector’s drive for innovation.
Find out more about discounted charity subscriptions to Teams Voice