We run through some of the major tech trends shaping charity work of the future
COVID-19 drastically changed the charity sector. Service delivery moved to websites and videoconferencing platforms, fundraising shifted to online donations and virtual events, donor engagement became almost entirely digitised, and professionals adapted to remote working.
Many of these trends are set to continue, even as social distancing restrictions are eased. Charities around the world have experienced an accelerated form of digital transformation, which will continue long into the future. It started with necessity – organisations shifting to digital largely due to lockdowns – but many charities are noticing the huge benefits of the shift.
It’s important to build on these successes, keeping digital momentum going and adapting to meet the demands of the future. It’s essential that charities look forward to see the most exciting digital trends and stay ahead of the curve.
COVID-19 led to the implementation of social distancing restrictions. It meant wearing masks in public spaces, avoiding handshakes and hugs, and generally keeping our distance. The move away from physical contact led to changes in daily operations.
Contactless payments went from a luxury to a necessity. Many charities had already gone contactless prior to the pandemic, but the emergence of COVID-19 cemented that shift. Digital, contactless, and cashless payments became essential to maintain fundraising efforts.
Contactless and digital payments for charities will likely become even more important. The good news is that almost any charity can implement contactless payments. It simply involves setting up a point of sale (POS) device equipped with radio frequency identification.
The POS device immediately receives payment without any contact between the card and the machine. Such devices have become affordable in recent years, particularly with the general shift towards cashless interactions in the wider economy.
Many charities have already switched to digital payment options, which has improved the ease with which users can donate. In 2019, for example, the Mayor of London partnered with TAP London to create easy mediums for cashless donations for homeless people.
The two parties set up 35 donation centres serving at least 22 charities that supported the homeless, raising more than £7,000 in the first few weeks. The venture demonstrated how easy it is to adapt traditional giving methods.
Platforms like Beam help charities with cashless donations. Beam ensures donations are secure and convenient for donors. It also provides a platform where donors can monitor where their money has been donated and the services that the charity delivers.
Social media has become essential for charities during COVID-19. Major social media platforms – such as Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter – remain important for spreading awareness and fundraising. Popular new platforms – such as TikTok, Snapchat, and Clubhouse – are allowing charities to spread their reach.
Social media offers charities an easy route to promoting their cause. The platforms each provide ample opportunity for charities to communicate with potential donors, reach a new audience, and raise awareness about essential elements of service delivery.
Here are some of the likely post-COVID-19 social media trends.
Livestreaming will certainly continue as a key fundraising device. It provides one of the easiest ways for charities to showcase their service delivery options. During lockdown, for example, many organisations have offered live tours on Facebook, Twitch, and Instagram, which highlights some of the essential work they are doing.
Livestreams offer an intricate look at a charity’s day-to-day operations. They provide a platform to showcase service delivery, offering potential donors an insight into how their money might be spent. Charities can record the hard work of their volunteers, share authentic aspects of service delivery, and document the vital work that they are doing in their communities.
For more information, check out our article: How to fundraise with Instagram stories.
TikTok was one of the big success stories from 2020. The growth of the relatively new platform does not seem to be slowing, either in terms of the number of users or its general importance for charities. With the platform still evolving, charities should get involved as soon as possible.
TikTok provides a particular opportunity when it comes to engaging with a younger demographic. Many charities have already noticed its importance.
Macmillan Cancer Support began experimenting with TikTok in November 2020. They adopted an influencer-driven approach, teaming up with cancer survivor and amputee Bernadette Hagans, to take a light-hearted look at a serious subject. The British Red Cross has launched a second TikTok channel dedicated to sharing simple first aid tips, which has proved very useful.
The success of charitable ventures proves that TikTok offers vital space for charities, particularly in terms of providing ‘user-generated’ content.
Check out our Charity guide to TikTok for advice and tips.
Founded in 2020 by Paul Davidson and Rohan Seth, Clubhouse is an audio-only social media app. Reaching more than two million weekly active users when only available on iOS – Clubhouse is certainly one to look out for in the future.
Clubhouse is currently invitation-only, but charities should not have too much trouble getting invited. The platform has no photos, graphics, and videos – it is purely about social interaction.
Clubhouse is organised into rooms and a feed known as the ‘hallway’ or ‘corridor.’ There are also ‘clubs’ hosting regular rooms that you can follow.
Charities should question whether there are opportunities to raise awareness and fundraise on the platform. They should ask themselves questions before getting involved, such as:
If these questions generate a positive response, Clubhouse might just be the perfect app for your charity. For more information, check out our article: Should charities join Clubhouse?
According to a Charity Commission report, public trust in charities remains below pre-2014 levels, with an overall rating of just 6.2/10. One of the key elements that diminishes public trust is the absence of accountability and the potential of fraud.
Blockchain ensures transparency with data and minimises fraud. It allows donors to monitor how charities use donations, which incentivises future donations, as donors are more likely to give if they trust the organisation and can visibly track how money is spent.
Digital financial platforms, such as Alice, are solving transparency issues by introducing Blockchain into the charity sector. Based on the Ethereum Blockchain Network, users can track payments made to a particular charity and set conditions around how money may be spent. And, importantly, users can pull back donations if charities do not meet the conditions.
Charity organisations, such as St Mungo’s, are using the Alice platform to improve donation services. St Mungo’s used Alice for an appeal to raise £50,000 to help lift 15 people out of long-term rough sleeping by delivering concentrated personalised support.
Alice worked to freeze donations until the charity provided evidence that money was spent to meet the defined goals. Donors were also able to track when the suggested goals were met.
Blockchain can improve transparency in the charity sector, but it also provides lots of other services. It also helps with tracking supplies, for example. The health sector has used Blockchain during the pandemic to ensure supplies are delivered without delay, with up-to-date information, and without waste.
Because all updates on Blockchain are time-stamped, users can find out where products or supplies are at a certain time with reliable information, which minimises the risk of counterfeit, failures of compliance, and possible delays.
The benefits of Blockchain are clear. The question for charities is how they can use the new technology to improve operations.
For more information, check out our article: Blockchain for charity fundraising: behind the buzzword.
Automation is an essential element of digital transformation. It increases efficiency, provides opportunity for growth, and minimises expenditure. For charities, automation provides plenty of opportunities, including easy routes to fundraising, effective forms of service delivery, and cost-efficiency in day-to-day operations.
COVID-19 had a huge impact on the labour force, as some charities were hit by staff shortages and struggled to provide adequate service delivery. Some organisations deployed artificial intelligence (AI) to fill that void. AI works by analysing data, denoting essential patterns, and making decisions that better cater to the needs of customers and service users.
The charity sector has been slow on the uptake of AI. The reason is simple: AI can feel daunting. But AI also offers huge opportunities for the charity sector.
Chatbots serve as a good example of basic AI. WaterAid’s ‘Talk to Selly’ campaign, for example, provided potential donors with the chance to chat to a bot purporting to be someone who would benefit directly from the charity’s support.
Mencap have put an ‘Understand Me’ chatbot on their website. The chatbot guides users and potential donors through a conversation with Aeren, who was born with a learning disability. The AI gives users information about her life, while also providing statistics on learning disabilities in the UK.
Chatbots are a simple use of AI, but also a very effective one. They show some of the early possibilities of AI in the charity sector and demonstrate the potential for improvement and growth if the charity sector adopts AI more enthusiastically.
Find out more about the debates around AI: Common misconceptions about AI.
Virtual reality also saw an uptick during COVID-19. The trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, as virtual reality becomes increasingly important.
The NSPCC, for example, has been pioneering the use of a computer simulation programme to help tackle child abuse. The NSPCC teamed up with gamification training provider Attensi to create an immersive simulation for those working with children who may be victims of abuse.
Talk To Me is a free-to-use online simulation that aims to build confidence in adults working with children to talk about challenging issues, such as abuse.
It can be accessed through web browsers and involves fictional young characters created with 3D modelling that mimics body language and facial expressions. Real actors have voiced the characters who are involved in scenarios that users are guided through. In addition, real-time feedback is presented to users depending on how well they have earned children’s trust.
“For anyone who comes into contact with young people who they fear may have suffered abuse or be at risk, learning how to build their trust is absolutely vital,” said NSPCC Chief Executive Peter Wanless. “As part of our wider activity aimed at supporting those who work or volunteer with children, we’re delighted to offer our safeguarding research and experience to collaborate with Attensi on Talk to Me.”
Check out our article for more information: How virtual reality has helped charities.
Cloud-based storage options have proved increasingly important during COVID-19 and that importance is unlikely to dwindle. Cloud-based storage has the unique benefit of providing access anywhere, which has become particularly important since the shift to remote working.
Documents and data on the cloud can be accessed via the internet from any location, using most devices, allowing a greater degree of flexibility. And using the cloud provides ample opportunity for remote collaboration, which is likely to be increasingly important in the future.
Charities should be aware of the risks, though. One of the main risks is social engineering. ‘Pretexting’ poses a particular threat. Phishing attacks, for example, often target cloud-based data.
Cyber attackers send phishing messages, usually via email and text, with the aim of retrieving cloud-based storage credentials, which would help cyber attackers gain access to huge amounts of data.
A quick and easy tip: charity professionals should not click on untrustworthy emails and should practice caution even when emails seem genuine. If you think an email is genuine, you can make some basic checks.
Pay particular attention to the email address – noting discrepancies, which are sometimes subtle, but often obvious. Practice caution when emails contain vague wording, such as ‘Dear Sir or Madam’.
And do not be fooled by claims of urgency. Phishing attacks regularly purport that an action is urgent in an effort to force employees to act without much forethought.
For more advice, check out our article: Protecting your charity from social engineering.
The events of 2020 have provided opportunities for charities to host some unconventional events. One of the most popular has been gaming. Charities are using online games to encourage people to donate – and there have been plenty of success stories.
Make a Wish set up a fundraiser called ‘Game Stars’, which brought together online gamers and streamers to host game shows, stream the shows, and donate money, all of which helps the charity to grant wishes to kids under their care.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) supports people in the most troubled parts of the world. The NRC benefitted by working with Gaming Without Borders, who created a $10 million prize fund to support charities on the frontline in the fight against COVID-19.
Elite gamers competed over seven weeks and viewers watched their livestreams, occasionally donating to their favourite causes.
Women Win also used gaming as a tool to provide vital services, such as educational programmes and workshops. Women Win seek to empower women and girls across the globe through the use of play and sport – and that now also means e-sports.
Gaming proved essential during COVID-19 because Women Win had to “meet people where they are” and, with the cancellation of many sporting events and activities, that meant moving online.
Check out our article for more information: How to build a charity gaming campaign.
Many of the abovementioned trends are set to continue, even as social distancing restrictions are eased. Charities around the world need to take full advantage of the opportunities for digital transformation, ensuring they stay ahead in the future.
Digital transformation can often feel daunting, with the introduction of new terminology and new processes that seemingly require lots of time, money, and energy. But you’d be surprised. Lots of the trends are cost-efficient, simple to learn, and profoundly beneficial.
Digital transformation depends on will. Charities need to want to adapt. And we are here to help. Keep up-to-date with Charity Digital for more tips and advice.