The Tech Of Charity

The Tech Of Charity

How do charities use technology to manage their organizations and, raise their funds? In an environment dominated by COVID-19, how can charities leverage technology to maintain fundraising and offer new ways of giving?

The charity sector has continued to use technology to make giving efficient and convenient. Also, the use technology to make back-office systems secure and reliable has continued to develop. Charity technology, though, is about to expand as a reaction to the pandemic.

According to the last Charity Digital Skills report 2020, two thirds (66%) are delivering all work remotely, whilst 61% will be offering more online services. It’s also encouraging that almost half (47%) are collaborating or sharing learnings with each other around digital.

However, 27% have cancelled services because either their charity or their users don’t have the necessary skills or tech and, 47% are interested in how to help users access services online with 46% wanting guidance on what works with digitizing face-to-face services.

Nearly half (44%) want to help the team adjust to change. More than one-third of charities (37%) don’t have the income to invest in digital, which is a concern at a time when adoption of digital needs to accelerate across the sector. A third (34%) see the fact that their audience is not online as their greatest challenge. This shows how charities need to take action on the digital divide.

Speaking to Silicon UK, Lizi Zipser, director of strategy and insights at Blue State says: “Many UK charities have made a lot of investment in their technology infrastructure. Those who also invested in the wider digital fundraising ecosystem, such as paid media, are seeing the results from greater optimization, automation and ability to report and see data in real-time through dashboards and journey integrations.”

Lizi Zipser, director of strategy and insights at Blue State.
Lizi Zipser, director of strategy and insights at Blue State.

And charities do understand that technology is about to shift once again and enter the era of DARQ (Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Extended Reality (XR) and Quantum Computing

Says Aris Souras, Manager, Higgs speaking in the Global NGO Technology report “A decade ago, NPOs in Europe that had a mobile website and a Facebook page were at the forefront of technology. Today, those tools are standard practice. Early-adopter NPOs are now shifting their focus to mastering the tools of the AI Revolution – chatbots, voice commands, and machine learning.”

This understanding that charities must embrace these new technologies was reiterated by Matt Saunders, founder of Charity Box – a Leeds-based firm which supports charities and social enterprises by providing digital strategy, creative and training services to help maximize social impact and increase donations/revenue, who told Silicon UK:

“According to the UK Charity Digital Index 2019 published by Lloyds Bank, only 3% of charities currently make use of the blockchain, with 6% claiming to make use of AI technologies. The good news is that many more charities report to understand the tech but simply have no plans to use it in the next two years.

“We expect this to rise slowly and, as we have seen with other forms of digital tech, before hitting a ceiling where less than half make full use of these emerging technologies in the next few years. If recent history has shown us anything, it is that those organizations who embrace and use new technology see the biggest gains.”

Virtual fundraising

Making giving effortless has always been a focus for all charities. Removing any barrier to donating has been a core component of how all charities have developed their technologies. The Natural History Museum developed its kiosk technology to allow donations with a tap.

In an age of COVID-19, physical means of giving are clearly being shunned by donators. In a post-Coronavirus environment, giving will also have to embrace post-tap technologies.

The current report from Blackbaud is telling concluding: “76% of organizations have used at least one virtual fundraising initiative for the first-time during lockdown. And the good news is that the majority say they will use it again as it’s been an excellent way to attract new supporters, as well as engage existing ones.

“Across the board, 53% have tried some form of online video streaming to raise funds during the pandemic – including pub quizzes, exercise classes, and video gaming. Also, 65% have tried a virtual physical challenge using a fitness app, such as Strava, or launched a team virtual event. Medium sized, growing organizations have been the most likely to have engaged with some form of virtual fundraising. With 36% of small organizations were shown to be the least likely to try virtual fundraising citing the main reasons being either a lack of resources or tools.”

With the pandemic sweeping across the globe this year, charities of all sizes which usually have a voice with a global reach have been fighting harder to get their voices and causes heard. The introduction of RunnyHoney has the power to enable charities and communities to become more integrated. The platform allows for local businesses to support charities of their choice using fun, interactive games and contests with prize incentives, and in return benefit from publicity and potential new audiences.

Damian Dutton, Co-Founder of BeeLiked said: “It’s important for charities and communities to become more integrated in order to engage new audiences; with the use of technology they will be greatly expanding their fundraising potential. RunnyHoney is a digital fundraising platform which has enabled local businesses to support charities of their choice using gamified contests with prize incentives, and in return, they benefit from publicity and potential new audiences. Ultimately, people give more generously when they have the opportunity to play a digital game with prizes up for grabs. Also, 100% of the donations collected through the promotion goes directly to the charity bank account.”

Damian Dutton, Co-Founder of BeeLiked.
Damian Dutton, Co-Founder of BeeLiked.

There is little doubt the pandemic has had a major impact on donations to all charities. However, giving continues but will use innovative digital channels, which will only expand. Charities can see how the giving landscape has changed and are modifying their process to support this shift in donor behaviour.

Next-generation charities

Innovation for donations is taking place: For example, Change Donations enables charitable giving by linking these donations to everyday shopping. Set up by graduates of Trinity Business School’s MBA programme, the start-up gives donors the option to round up their purchases and donate their spare change to the causes that they care about most.

By creating an account and linking their card to a specific charity of their choice, when account holders make everyday purchases, through Change Donations’ ‘Round-up’ process, the difference between their payment and the next euro is given to charity.

William Conaghan, co-founder of Change Donations, says: “Our whole ethos revolves around building a community of everyday philanthropists. We all want to make a difference, but COVID-19 has made us rethink how that’s possible. Our growing community is working together to turn small change into meaningful change.”

Also, European NPOs are embracing email marketing as 80% send email updates to supporters and donors, up from 57% in 2018. And, 23% utilize text-to-give, more than any other region. Of those that use text-to-give, 55% find the technology effective for fundraising – 9% higher than NPOs in other regions that use text-to-give. And, 42% of NPOs in Europe purchase Google Ads, the highest rate worldwide. They also exceed the global average for investing in advertising on Facebook at 54%, Instagram 38%, and Twitter 18%.

Charities also have one major asset they can exploit: data. The information about their sector and their donors is invaluable. Blue State’s Lizi Zipser commented: “The greatest barrier is still integrating data to drive actionable insights. So many now have better systems, but different systems speaking to each other, and having the time to pull analysis that can translate across programmes can still be a challenge. For example, many now have dashboards that show digital fundraising performance by channel (i.e. Search, Facebook, Google Analytics).

“But very few that I’ve seen integrated long-term metrics from the supporter database such as retention rates, propensity to upgrade, etc. If we’re looking for Lifetime Value, we want to start integrating these kinds of metrics back into the systems fundraisers look at to optimize their acquisition activities. Otherwise you run the risk of making decisions that lead to acquiring the cheapest supporters, not the best ones.”

Also, in conversation with Silicon UK, Sri Mishra, Chief Technology and Operations Officer from Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) explained their approach to data management: “Non-profits have begun the journey to becoming data-driven organizations. We are not completely there in terms of fully leveraging the data information yet to drive informed decision making. At JDRF, we have taken a three-step approach to leverage all of the information which includes: Collecting data from all sources and adding it to our CRM and cloud data warehouse (AWS) with help of middleware.

Mastering and enriching our first-party data with master data management and data cleansing tools. This helps us to get a 360-degree view of our customers whilst governing the data and, using analytics to drive more strategic decisions with visualization capabilities to not only look at past performance but at predictive modelling.”

Tech in the charity sector is being leveraged to bolster donations but also to make their organizations more efficient. Data analysis will massively expand over the next few years as charities begin to use AI to help them make deeper and longer-lasting connections with their supporters. COVID-19 may have had a devastating impact on charities, but by using a range of technologies, they can bounce back and flourish.

Silicon in Focus

Alex Coleridge, Founder and CEO at charity tech platform TapSimple.

Alex Coleridge, Founder and CEO at charity tech platform TapSimple.
Alex Coleridge, Founder and CEO at charity tech platform TapSimple.

Do charities continue to find using technology generally challenging?

“Research from Charity Bank recently found that more than half of charities see their digital limitations as a major challenge to overcome. Many charities are still paper-based or lack crucial tools such as the ability to collect cashless donations or engage with their supporters virtually – particular problems at present during the pandemic and as society becomes increasingly cashless.

“Also, reductions in public sector funding and squeezed income from donors has not helped, as fundraisers and volunteers find themselves increasingly without the time to research the right technology. It’s a painful catch 22 as new technology is often the answer for stretched fundraising teams, with the potential to reduce bureaucratic tasks like reconciliation and reporting or, maximize the return on fundraising activity by unlocking additional donations, Gift Aid and access to supporters.”

Have charities embraced technologies that enable the public to make donations easier?

“Innovations in Gift Aid collection are boosting total income and freeing up fundraisers’ time, allowing them to keep accurate digital records, contact supporters in the future and make every donation go further. In 2019 TapSimple supported Children With Cancer (CWC) UK at their annual ball in 2019 with contactless and chip & pin donation devices, helping raise several hundred thousand pounds in donations and pledges, and capturing Gift Aid information seamlessly throughout the evening while the finance team was able to track the amount raised live from the balcony.

“The pandemic is causing charities to be even more creative as events are postponed and social distancing continues to impact face to face fundraising. Recognizing the need for charities to adapt, TapSimple recently launched a virtual events and ticketing platform to help charities connect remotely with fundraisers and raise money online – picture Zoom or Skype but with the ability to donate directly from the page. It has been fascinating to watch how charities use virtual events platforms in their own innovative ways – from quizzes, to supporter Q&As, to virtual cocktail making classes.”

Looking at the ‘back office’ systems charities use. Where do charities need the most help to make these systems more efficient?

“Non-profit organizations can make an impact by optimizing back-office functions; more efficient systems, processes and structures can save costs and improve services.

“However, to make these optimizations, charities need the right skill sets to identify areas that can be improved. Inflated and inefficient or legacy back-office processes slow charities down, and with these revamped, resource can be focused where it is truly needed. Also, many charities need help identifying suppliers who understand the voluntary sector and are reliable, helpful, competitive and deliver a high-quality service tailored to the sector needs.”

Charities could be data powerhouses. Are they making the most of the information they are collecting?

“Most charities use basic data in some format, but often, the data’s potential is much more significant than the charity realizes. Charities should make use of the increased availability and development of new processing and technologies so that they can make data accessible in a way that is useful and interesting and helps to raise awareness of their work to different parties – whether that’s trustees, investors or media.

“Charities need to be aware of the potential of data sets that are relevant to their work and also publicly accessible, while also building their own data in an organized and useful way. Fortunately, new technology is reducing the need to have specialized analysts or research departments to utilize this data effectively, and it’s becoming increasingly affordable.

“Even more importantly, and if used properly, charities can use their data to optimize the performance of their campaigns and significantly boost donations. A good data set can help answer those all-important questions – when is the right time to fundraise, which supporters should be contacted, what is the correct amount to ask for, and what is the right messaging?”

Are charities embracing technologies like AI, blockchain, predictive analytics and cloud computing?

“The charity sector has been tentative so far in exploring the potential of new technologies such as AI, blockchain, predictive analytics and cloud computing. Where these technologies are being used, they are proving transformative; analytics are being used to combat homelessness, for example, by considering factors like discrimination by landlords, and is also being leveraged to combat malaria by connecting surveillance data with climate, vegetation and big data sets.

“Meanwhile, the potential blockchain has to transform the sector is huge too; decentralized ledger technologies could help tackle inefficiency and lack of transparency in charitable activities, particularly crucial for a sector that is reliant on accountability and public trust.

“What is clear is that leaders within the charity sector must work with technology companies to ensure their needs are being met and that technology is being developed with charities in mind, as the potential benefits are huge. Despite the recent difficulties caused by the pandemic, with the right technology, innovation and strategy, charities have the potential to bounce back strongly in the years to come.”