Dismissed by some as a passing fad, charities are now embracing digital service delivery as part of their long term strategy for the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond
Times of crisis and turmoil have always been catalysts for innovation. Suddenly and without warning, organisations have been forced to reinvent how they operate to survive, and for many, this has meant diving headfirst into digital service delivery and the unexplored waters of Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and more.
For a lot of charities, going digital was only ever meant to be a temporary solution to a temporary problem. But three months after the start of the UK lockdown, with the light beginning to show at the end of the tunnel, the time has come for honest reflection. The pandemic has exposed the many different ways that we want our selves, our societies and our organisations to change for good. Should the way charities deliver services be one of them?
It’s easy to focus on the losses and the setbacks. But for every charity that has suffered a closure of its services, many more are in a position to ask ’What have we learnt? What can our service users gain?’
Many charities are learning that by embracing digital they can engage more people in hard to reach groups, meet unexpected demand, stand out from the pack by going the extra mile for the people they support and save money while doing so.
The charities we look at below are just a few of them.
Dingley’s Promise, a charity which supports under 5s with additional needs and disabilities, has been forced to quickly shift to digital, remote support and information sharing. As a result, they’ve found that they can reach more people and increase their impact like never before, and say they’re likely to continue a number of their online activities after lockdown.
"The demystification of digital working that the crisis has brought about will very likely mean that digital working, remote working and online activities become a part of our core community permanently as staff, beneficiaries and decision-makers are now more comfortable with what benefits this can offer,"
- Catherine McLeod, CEO
The Scouts have long been synonymous with ’the great outdoors’. But when this became off-limits during lockdown, they were compelled to reexamine how they could keep their core values alive through digital.
It’s been a massive shift, but the charity has been able to repurpose resources from hundreds of scouting activities already at their disposal to keep its young service users learning and engaged remotely. Chief Digital Officer Lara Burns says she has been "genuinely blown away and truly inspired by the rapid digital transformation that is happening around us – and how it’s genuinely making things better."
Many charities have discovered demand for their services online that they never knew existed in the offline world. Soundabout, a charity which helps people with severe learning disabilities using music, is one of them.
Before the pandemic, the charity was seeing groups of eight people, plus their careers, in face-to-face sessions. However, its newly introduced live broadcasted Facebook sessions reach a community of over twelve thousand people. For this small charity, such a massive expansion in its reach means a permanent and profound change.
Auditory Verbal UK’s shift to digital service delivery was driven by the need to carry on consistently delivering auditory and verbal therapy sessions for the deaf children it serves, ensuring that the lockdown wouldn’t have the knock-on effect of delaying their progress.
By moving quickly to digital, not only were they able to do this, but they increased their reach significantly beyond their geographical limitation. Based in London, the charity is now able to serve many people beyond the capital who might not afford the time and cost of travelling to access its services.
"I believe many organisations will not go back to the way things were but will continue to use remote and digital services to help them," says Auditory Verbal UK’s Jane Warriner.
These are stressful times, and mental health charity Scunthorpe and District Mind have discovered that using remote video support for people in crisis lets them meet the increased demand for its services during lockdown. Not only can they reach many new service users suffering as a result of dramatic changes to their lives, but they can also now support people in remote rural areas like never before.
By evidencing that they can continue to deliver services safely and effectively through digital, the charity has been able to secure the vital funding they need to run now and in the future.