Are charities technophobic?

Technology has the power to transform the world and people’s lives.

And yet too many charities are frustratingly slow to pick up on technology and particularly, the potential of the digital world and the internet. The persistent idea of an “office” being somewhere productive when it clearly isn’t (if your creative thinking happens outside the workplace, you’re not alone), or the poor quality of many charity websites (in general, let alone when visited on mobile), it can seem like charities or their leaders are prone to being luddites.

Social Media should be at the heart of communications

There still seems a reticence from many CEOs, Trustees and senior staff to pick up on the power of social media to help them do their work. How many times have you heard people in those roles express bewilderment at Twitter or Facebook? Perhaps letters were considered a weird fad back in the day…

Mobile – not digital – First

This should be the mantra for any charities redeveloping their digital services. Charities have understood people are willing to donate by mobile on public transport and adverts encouraging this have multiplied in recent years. Charities that help people with health conditions know their beneficiaries are also mobile and they expect to engage easily and conveniently to find information and support whenever they need it not just whilst sat at a PC. Supporters deserve their experience to be smooth, seamless and fast. Neither group can be solely catered for through technology. Face-to-face interactions are often essential in delivering services and developing strong relationships, but technology is incredibly helpful and should be many charities’ biggest focus.

Culture change

With all these technological advances, it seems extraordinary that so many helplines run by major national charities are only open during “standard office hours” (by which they mean 9-5, even though these are not even standard office hours any more!). The insistence on so many staff working every day in offices seems counterproductive on so many levels, and costly. Morale, creativity, flexibility, rent and energy savings are just some of the benefits to charity of having non-office based staff.

It’s not acceptable in 2014 to have the mantra of “what about those who are not online?” to determine your communications or business strategy. If a charity gets direct mail or other hard copy communications wrong, they may receive a complaint or some feedback, but how much attention is paid to the much larger number of people who use their websites and if it doesn’t offer what they want, they click or flick away?

Of course, those not online must also be able to access information and support, but if strategy is driven by that small and decreasing audience, where is the focus on the vast majority of the audience?

Content is not king, delivery is.

Content alone is not enough. If your presentation is poor – a low quality website with poor navigation, unresponsive design and missed engagement opportunities – your high bounce rate indicates the content isn’t being read or used properly. Charities that don’t have easy-to-use website help points, downloadable guides and booklets, or easy-to-share videos and infographics, are failing to meet the needs and demands of the bulk of their beneficiaries, supporters and staff.

Invest for a return, show your supporters you care.

Despite platforms like JustGiving, some of the technology specifically for charities is poor quality, and it restrains fundraising and service delivery. Synchronising different platforms verges on the impossible. Tribute Fund sections of some major national charity websites are embarrassing, almost insulting. Do they really expect someone to want to support a charity that has a clunky, dated and unfriendly approach to building a memorial to their loved one?

Halfway there?

There are many amazing examples of both leaders and charity specialists who see the potential for modern technology to deliver for charities, but they seem exceptional rather than the norm.

Up-to-date technology that works well should be a central plank in the future development of charities big and small. With so many free platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Google Grants etc – size need not make a difference. Technology can deliver real and sustained change and build a better world. Leaders of those charities slow to take advantage of this amazing potential need to rethink their attitude, and catch up.

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