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Why do charities struggle with tech – and where can they get inspiration?

In business, companies that fail to identify and adapt to changing consumer demands risk falling behind their competitors. As a result, there is a constant pressure on companies large and small to keep up with the latest digital trends to ensure they are meeting evolving expectations…

The same can be said for charities – overlooking consumer trends can limit the amount of people they are able to reach out to. It is regrettable, then, to note that digital transformation has been slow to reach the third sector; according to Tech Trust’s 2018 Digital Charity Survey, over half (58%) of UK charities do not have a digital strategy in place.

Technological innovations offer organisations the ability to save time and money, and there’s no reason why the not-for-profit sector cannot also take advantage of this. I believe there is a big window of opportunity for charities to explore how these innovations can transform their organisation and help them make a positive change to society.  

Why do charities struggle to adopt tech?

First, let’s consider why many charities might struggle to adopt tech.

In my experience, there is a belief amongst not-for-profits that tech is too expensive and has little to offer them, particularly for small organisations with limited resources.

Conversely, there are in fact many ways that charities can reap the benefits of technology for free; often, all it takes is a bit of dedicated time and research to find solutions that are readily available.

At the same time, charities feel they simply don’t have the skills or expertise to appropriately implement technology. A lack of appropriate skills has been identified as the second biggest barrier to digital transformation within charities – 51% cited this as their main challenge.

Fortunately, many available technologies are intuitive to use, and for emerging technologies that are slightly more difficult to get to grips with, there are a number of tech agencies on hand to offer their expertise and support. Moreover, there are countless examples of creative applications of technology that can serve as inspiration for charities that lack suitable experience in this space.

Innovations in giving

The rise of digital fundraising technology in particular should be on the radar of all charities. According to the Charitable Giving Report 2018, overall online giving to UK non-profit organisations increased 5.5% in 2018, while the rate of giving in total declined by 4.2% from the previous year.

As online giving continues to grow as a percentage of overall donations, the findings indicate that organisations without convenient and accessible donation platforms may find themselves at a disadvantage in an increasingly competitive giving landscape. Fortunately, platforms like Just Giving bring digital giving within reach for all charities, offering a simple way to raise money.

The report also found that 24% of all online donations globally were made using mobile devices. Fast and easy donations are an obvious benefit of mobile apps, while at the same time satisfying consumer demand for convenient payment options. As well as driving direct donations, apps can also be a useful tool when it comes to regularly engaging with a target audience.

For one, they can provide consumers with updates on fundraising efforts and initiatives (engaging a feel-good factor by highlighting the impact of donations), while also helping to inform and educate users about pressing social issues they are helping to address.

There are plenty of mobile-friendly donation platforms available that can address fundraising needs (Thinking of You and Givelify spring to mind), and organisations can also consider building their own app by enlisting the help of experienced tech agencies.

The power of experience

While technological infrastructure enables innovative forms of giving, the fact remains that people are still at the heart of fundraising. This is why we’re increasingly seeing creative strategies being employed alongside digital giving to offer donors a unique and compelling experience.

A standout forward-thinker in this sphere is Cancer Research UK. In 2017, the charity rolled out ‘smart benches’ across London, which enabled people to donate £2 by tapping a contactless payment card. Using contactless technology in this innovative way worked to engage the public in Cancer Research UK’s mission and made it easy for people to donate to the cause.

How we lent a helping hand

At Studio Graphene, we know all too well how daunting it can be to seek rewards from technology if you’re not familiar with emerging innovations.

That’s why we launched an initiative in 2018 – #BuildMyApp – which offers charities the opportunity to have their app idea built entirely for free. It aims to show the value a well-designed app can bring, while allowing them a space to innovate.

Last year, the winning idea was put forward by Signalong – a children’s communications charity. Our team built an AI-enabled app, Sign Studio, which allowed users to take photographs of everyday objects on their smartphone, with its recognition technology then informing the user how to communicate this object through sign language. The app can be used for the hearing impaired and their carers, as well as those with communication difficulties.

After a successful launch, we ran this initiative again this year, choosing Semble – the UK’s most active platform for community projects – as the winning application. The organisation helps local projects get the support they deserve by partnering them with businesses and volunteers. We are currently building a ‘spin-off’ app in an aim to revolutionise the way people engage with volunteering activities.

Through this initiative, we aim to demonstrate the power of technology in transforming a part of a charity. I would encourage charities of all sizes to explore existing and available technologies to find digital solutions that work for them. What’s more, they should also feel free to look to agencies like Studio Graphene who can readily offer their expertise and advice.

Written by Ritam Gandhi, Founder and Director, Studio Graphene

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