The IFB News Pipe

Guest Blog: Charities: Getting it right in the digital world

31 March 2014

Edel Harris

Why should the internet and social media matter for charities? Giving to a charity or getting support from one has been going on for hundreds of years. However, there are some distinct opportunities for third sector organisations to exploit this move towards online communication and in turn further their work towards achieving their charitable objectives.

As well as opportunities the internet also presents significant challenges for charities including those working with groups of people who require others means of communication.

The cost of investing in the right technology and tools is often a prohibiting factor.  Some ‘traditional’ organisations don’t like to present themselves in a showy fashion online to resonate with donors and volunteers. Who want to give of their time and resources to charities perceived as cash poor or those who demonstrate the funds they secure mainly go towards providing direct services to the people who need them most.

Unprecedented levels of data capture, analysis and regulation are shaping charities’ strategies as well as their day-to-day operations. Many are also using social media to better understand the needs of their service users and to reach out to funders and donors.

The charity funder relationship

The internet has also played a role in shifting the relationship between charities and those who fundraise or donate to them. Donors are no longer loyal to one particular good cause, but shop around and are viewed as being ‘clients’ who need to be ‘incentivised’ or ‘rewarded’. This applies similarly to volunteers.

When it comes to providing support services, the internet really comes into its own for many charities. Charities can reach so many more people, can be more customer focussed and efficient and can use a website or Facebook page as an exciting way to communicate with stakeholders.

But, is it secure enough?

Data security is an issue which requires close attention. Charities are often responsible for a large amount of data, much of which is personal, and which is often shared across organisational boundaries. Charities, like other public services, have a duty of care to their service users and donors and it is important that they know how their data is being used.

Many charities and community based groups are small and do not have access to the necessary levels of knowledge or expertise to really exploit these opportunities.  The cost of data security is not the only issue; the costs of financing the IT infrastructure as well as training for staff and other on-going costs place a real burden on many charities.  This is where grant awarding bodies, service purchasers and other funders could offer a ‘strategic lead’ to third sector organisations by encouraging ICT costs to be built into funding bids.

Charities should not be frightened of embracing the opportunities presented by the internet.

The internet, social media and mobile technology all provide an opportunity to radically and positively disrupt the ways in which we work. The more charities use the technology and tools at their disposal to exploit their full potential, the better.

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