Apps, sensors, smart devices and artificial intelligence can be used creatively by third sector organisations to make a real difference without necessarily costing a proverbial arm and leg…
There are more than 168,000 charities in the UK committed to improving the social wellbeing of those in need and furthering philanthropic causes. From disaster relief and conservation to health and education, there’s no shortage of good causes for people to support. However, for many small charities, limited resources can make it difficult for them to grow operations, improve fundraising efforts or affect a greater change in their chosen field.
Thankfully, the constraints placed on third sector organisations can be lifted, in part at least, through the effective and intelligent use of technology. Namely, new innovations are offering cost-efficient ways for charities to operate; we’ve seen this first-hand with big companies, and there’s nothing to say charities cannot benefit as well.
I strongly believe that not-for-profit bodies shouldn’t shy away from new technologies and digital platforms, or be intimidated by them; instead, they need to be actively seeking out opportunities to learn how tech can cut down on their costs and improve their output.
1. Taking full advantage of social media
Social media is an invaluable tool for any digital marketing strategy, and while it offers organisations the potential to reach to mass audience, the challenge for many is ensuring that these instruments are strategically used. This is particularly true when it comes to charities – according to Global NGO Tech Report, less than a third (32%) of non-profit organisations have a social media strategy in place.
Importantly, social media channels are constantly evolving and charities need to be on top of the latest trends to ensure that they are receiving the right type of exposure in front of their desired audiences. Take, for example, Facebook. At the moment, video content is currently being prioritised by Facebook’s algorithm over traditional text and image posts. For charities looking to generate conversations on Facebook or promote their cause, it makes sense for these organisations to regularly include video content in their Facebook posts.
2. Embracing digital marketing and online donations
In an increasingly digital world, it has become a necessity for organisations to cater to soaring consumer demand for easy payment methods like online and contactless transactions. Although cash donations are still the most popular method of giving, the rise of the cashless society will threaten this; in fact, one in seven people say that they don’t donate to charities because they no longer carry cash. Meanwhile, another report found that online giving increased by 12.1% between 2016 and 2017 alone.
As consumer habits change, removing obstacles to donating is not only cost effective (think how much time is spent managing physical payments), but also incentivises people to make a quick donation to their favourite charity. Embracing readily available solutions like PayPal and exploring ‘tap and go’ options as we saw with the British Legion’s 2017 Poppy Appeal could make a drastic difference to donor sentiments.
Charities also shouldn't shy away from the opportunities available from digital marketing which, when done correctly, can generate significant exposure for your cause. Moreover, these opportunities are not cost prohibitive. In fact, many large companies such as Google offer special grants for charitable organisations seeking to advertise their platform.
3. Apps as a long-term resource
Apps are a valuable resource for charities. Importantly, they don’t have to be expensive or labour-intensive to provide a useful, long-term resource. In most cases, the software or hardware already exists – all that remains is finding a creative way to use these technologies to an organisation’s advantage.
To demonstrate, Studio Graphene held a competition in 2018 where we offered to design and build a not-for-profit app free of charge. The winner was Signalong – a children’s communication skills charity.
In a matter of days, our team was able to build an app that has proven invaluable to users with hearing impairments or communication difficulties. With access to Signalong’s extensive sign language database, the AI-enabled app allows users to take photographs of everyday objects on their smartphone, with its recognition technology then informing the user of the correct sign to use. The app, which was constructed by bringing together several existing pieces of technology, has been a real success; it can be used for the hearing impaired and their carers, as well as those with communication difficulties.
4. Using cloud technology to streamline admin tasks
One of the best ways to cut operational costs is to digitise the internal process of storing and sharing information. Thanks to cloud technology, this is now easily within reach of charities looking to streamline their operations.
Examples of innovations within this space include CloudDonor – a donor relationship management system that helps charities process fundraising income, build marketing campaigns and manage merchandising. Incorporating all elements of fundraising management in one central area means that charities can analyse exactly how successful their campaigns have been. And with complete visibility over income and expenditure, charities can use this solution to forecast future costs and budget accordingly.
5. Blockchain-based tech to reduce fraud
Fraud is presenting a growing problem across many sectors, and the charity space is certainly no exception. Luckily, blockchain is on hand to offer transparency and restore the public’s trust that donations are reaching their intended recipients.
To understand the benefits of blockchain, it’s helpful to think of it as a shared database that stores massive amounts of information and which is constantly being updated as transactions are made. Moreover, there is no centralised version of this system, which means that it’s impossible to corrupt the data.
It’s natural that people want to know how their individual contribution is making a difference to a cause, so some organisations – like homeless charity St. Mungo’s – have been trialling the benefits of blockchain solutions. In collaboration with tech startup Alice, a tool was created to track donations from the moment of giving to the eventual impact it had on a person’s life.
Embracing existing technologies can make a massive difference, as well as saving charities’ precious time and resources that could be better spent on promoting their respective causes. Organisations should therefore be actively encouraged to experiment with these technologies and make the most of the countless digital solutions readily available to them.
Of course, if you’re looking to develop an app from scratch – or build on existing tech – this can be daunting. Luckily, there’s always help at hand, with agencies like Studio Graphene ready and willing to share their technical expertise and help bring your vision to reality.
Ritam Gandhi is Director and Founder of Studio Graphene