Eight weeks ago, I became the Chief Executive of Small Charities Coalition. Since then, I have been reflecting on my vision for small charities when it comes to digital.
This is where I have got to so far – my vision is that small charities can, and will, have the same opportunities to access and embrace the digital and technological solutions as other organisations with more resources… And that this happens before too many small charities cease to exist.
Times are tough
Having worked with charities for the last decade I know that times are tough for the sector. We are facing increased regulation, decreasing government funding, growing media scrutiny and damaged public trust. At the same time, the needs of the people that we exist to help are becoming increasingly complex.
We are being asked to do more with less. To some these challenge seem insurmountable. Others are suggesting mergers and acquisitions. For me it means turning to technology for new solutions.
Small charities are vital
I have spent the last eight weeks travelling the country, meeting small charities, funders, politicians, and umbrella bodies. In doing so, I have been reminded why small charities are essential to so many people across the UK and beyond.
Being small allows charities to identify, and quickly adapt to the changing environment of the needs they are set up to address. As we saw from the Grenfell disaster, they are often the first to be called upon in times of need. And as I have seen recently, they are often the last to leave… Even when the funding runs out.
Merging or closing would mean compromising the exceptional services they deliver. This is not the ideal solution. Yet one woman I spoke to from a CVS told me she was helping as many charities shut down as she used to help thrive. The passion and commitment of volunteers drive so many small charities – they worry about where the money is going to come from later. This means that they are being hit the hardest by the challenges the sector is facing. Many have simply had to close their doors in response.
We must adapt to survive
Those that have survived have tried to adapt to the new world that we live in, but they are limited in what they can do by their size.
I have seen some small charities embracing digital methods of fundraising. From contactless donations taken in small reception areas to online crowdfunders created to fund soup kitchens; it has been encouraging to see small charities starting to use technology to make giving easier and spread their stories further.
Digital fundraising is great and what has inspired me even more in my travels is the charities using technology to make their service delivery more efficient.
Digital solutions save time and money
I met with one agency that has been working on an automated process for matching older people with volunteers for a charity’s befriending service. This digital solution will cut costs, save time, and make the charity’s services far more scalable.
I would love to see more charities reflecting on the areas of their work that are particularly resource intensive and questioning whether they could be improved by taking humans out of the equation.
Technology cannot replace human emotion
There are some solutions that cannot be replaced by technology. Just this week I was talking to the founders of an incredible small charity that uses contemporary dance and physical theatre to tell the stories, and help restore the lives of women who have been involved in human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
It is the power of the emotions that humans can generate, release, and share in a room that makes this charity’s work so effective and powerful. Technology cannot yet replicate those emotions but it can free up time for volunteers or staff to do the things that only humans can do.
The barriers to embracing digital solutions
What has frustrated me is that one of the biggest barriers to embracing digital solutions for small charities is the very problem itself – we lack time and money. We do not have the time to find solutions that will save time in the future.
Equally, we do not have the money to invest in solutions that will save us money in a few years’ time. When asked to choose between the person sat in our waiting room who needs our help now, and efficiency measures for the future – most small charities will choose the person every time.
I want to break down barriers
That is why I am excited that the small charity I am leading is a Coalition. We are not a small charity that exists alone, we are a membership body that exists for all small charities (with an income of less than £1 million) to make their lives easier. We will not be able to provide individual charities with standalone technology – that is not what we exist for – but we can help organisations to embrace opportunities and work together on solutions.
I hope that my vision is achievable and that, by working as a collective group of small charities, together we can identify, access and embrace digital solutions that will make us more efficient, effective, and sustainable for the future.
I’d love to hear what you think. Post a comment below or tweet me @MsMandyJ