Charities face challenges, that’s why they exist! But there are many hurdles even in the day-to-day operations and fundraising that can be detrimental as a result of a lack of technology use in non-profit organizations. Anything from a lack of funds to dwindling reach or growth. Traditional ways of fundraising and promoting charities are becoming less useful in helping those in need. But for those who are willing to modernize and earnestly adopt, the value derived can compound philanthropic impact and effectiveness. Once upon a time charities used pencil and paper to communicate, now that seems unimaginable because technology has rendered these mediums by in large obsolete. Philanthropic organizations stand on the precipice of numerous exponential leaps in efficiency and reach as email is to paper, so is digital systems to virtually every day to day activity.
Cause Driven Digital Strategies
In my role as a project manager at the North West Company we hired Mindfield Consulting to develop several custom .net applications for us. Timelines were consistently met and I was always impressed with Mindfield’s responsiveness and ability to quickly grasp the problem and offer up creative solutions. Applications were of very high quality and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Mindfield Consulting for any custom development.
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1-Lack technology use in non-profit organizations results in shortages in funding
The number of charities has increased at a rate that has been outpacing the amount of money and help that’s up for grabs. Based on a report from the Globe and Mail “The number of charities soared as well, more than doubling from 42,000 in 1980 to 85,000 in 2007 (another 80,000 non-profit groups provide services, such as running a minor baseball league, but can’t issue tax receipts). “
Despite that number excluding scam charities. Many scam charities rely on lack of information about their practices and primarily steal money through approaching people, offering little information (usually a very short pamphlet), then asking for immediate assistance, with no further contact. Making old fashioned, street-level fundraising less effective but also wasting the cost and efforts of valuable fundraising undertaking.
Modern donors and volunteers like to make decisions on who and where to give their time and money by doing research on charities that match their goals and are most likely to use their money wisely. A lack of easily accessible, understandable, and clear missions, accomplishments, future plans, etc. makes decisions easy for potential donors, to ignore small, lesser-known charities. While established charities like the top 10 largest charities in Canada raised over $1.3B dollars in a 2018 report.
Given that living costs in most urban cities continue to rise in Canada, people have limited funds and more importantly the time to give, in research and volunteering. Providing a comprehensive digital presence (website, social media) is beneficial not just donors and volunteers but also for the charities themselves, because visibility and transparency are 2 of the most important thing people look for in potential deserving charities.
Our recommendation can be around what are ways that they can help alleviate this issue:
- Identify your donor segment and create a strategy to reach, engage, and activate donors and supporters
- Create a digital communications strategy to reach your donor segment online
- Work with communication or digital agency
- Identify websites and online publications that your donor
- Add a call to action to work with us to reach more people
- Utilize strategies like this one to other retailers
2-Absence of a digital volunteer strategy creating difficulties in navigating declining volunteer base
The Internet operates with duality in all that it touches, it’s the ability to connect people who think and talk alike has had a quite a negative effect on discourse and society recently, but it still is the most effective tool in finding and maintaining connections. Charities that still rely significantly on raffles, mail requests, and telephone calls are casting a small and unfortunately ineffective net. Around 33% of donors who are canvassed in person only provided 1.4% of total annual donations.
The ability to find people and donors who are very likely to be sympathetic to a charity’s cause has never been easier. Targeted fundraising, reduces the waste of cold contacting, while also providing a personal touch if nothing else it helps in at least getting a reply.
Despite these challenges are some things a cause-based organization can attend to:
- Identify ways to keep in touch with prospective, current, and alumni volunteers using free tools like Facebook groups or WhatsApp channels
- Monitor social media for hashtags or emerging events that highlights who could be volunteers or ambassadors for your organization
- Post opportunities on Charity Village and other job sites to attract participants
3-Reliance on laborious and costly fundraising and recruiting processes can be streamlined
A large amount of potential donors and volunteers, may on the surface look like more work, but with targeted fundraising and research, and identifying where the resource is best unitized, there is less for fundraisers and volunteers to do in terms of distribution and communicating.
Earlier the main type of fundraising was a direct solicitation, which was very labor-intensive, read expensive. Involving many hours of manpower to canvas neighborhood for support and funds. Recently, many charities have mobile apps that can be downloaded right to any sympathetic, possible donor or volunteer’s device allowing for easy lines of communication and donation collecting to be done on donor’s time and convenience.
Despite these challenges are things charities may leverage:
- Increase amount of easily accessible media presence and visibility
- Nurture relationships using online tools like LinkedIn
- Utilize GoFundMe or change.org to get the word out of a need or initiative
- Consider using a live stream to fundraise while partnering with a digital influencer (example)
4-Easy and free PR can solve expensive marketing pitfalls for lesser-known charities
Social media has become an indispensable tool for promotion and marketing for people and organizations. Before quick and easy access to the internet and social media, charities had to self promote through employee and volunteer’s word of mouth, talent, and creativity on how to gain a good reputation.
Traditional media (like television and newspapers) would rarely mention charities outside of times of disaster and holiday drives. For regular primetime coverage, usually only big, well-known charities would be mentioned, including warnings about scam charities, and news of any poor charity being mismanaged and wasting good money through corruption. Leaving any small, lesser-known charities to rely on calamities and suffering to get any press.
Now with social media, all a charity need do it is apply for a free account, then they can immediately start talking about what the charity does, their short term aims and long-time goals, upload pictures and video of volunteers and events, location of charity drives, periodic updates of an ongoing project. You can’t buy this kind of extensive publicity.
5-Lack of technological leadership resulting in lost opportunities for growth and innovation
The best innovations for any sector, are ones that are devised and created by the people who work, live and breathe their particular environment. Because they know best what will work, sometimes even before it is even implemented. Growth happens quickly and naturally when it comes from within. Think of every time you wanted to try to add a new habit to your routine. The ones that stick around are ones that are second nature, so similar to your old habits to allow for easy assimilation. Or ones stemming from necessity or personal need.
Lack of leadership in technology within charities means there will always lack of naturally useful growth, especially since technology is advancing everything else in life. When charities choose not to participate in this growth, they lose out on all the new streams of revenue and talent. And if you don’t, guaranteed someone will.
Sometimes growth is essential to just to cover the natural loss in one area to maintain the status quo. So if a charity isn’t growing, it’s decaying.
- Technology leadership is needed whenever an organization is deciding to invest in a technology
- Technology advisers can be available to support this process in an impactful way
- Main challenge organizations have is determining their future direction (who they want to be in 5 years, what does technology need to do to help them get there?)
- Creating a career track for technology and data resources to be part of their mission
- Add a call to action with having them get help on this
6-Lack of awareness of free, readily available technology reduces cost and time of adoption
As discussed earlier, new social media can revolutionize public relations for charities. But charities can also benefit from technology improved day to day operations. The traditional way charities have survived like most other organizations would if nothing else, benefit significantly from readily available administrative technology.
- Implement a wide-reaching and extensive social media presence
- Technological companies love partnering with charities in an effort for symbolic PR boost by providing free or affordable tech help
- Engage in online communities for charities to share help and resource with each other
7-No follow through on free strategic tech advice results in stagnation
Organizations stagnate when they don’t know what to do with good ideas and great people. Charities often receive ample hours of pro-bono consulting, but seldom have the courage to enact these major initiatives that would create a multiplier effect on their impact. Charities often lack leadership in seeing around the bend rather than an over-emphasis on managing risk. The catch is that if organizations are simply too risk-averse that their ability to deliver on their core mandate would eventually erode, meaning there will be no more risk to manage as the organization loses step with being even slightly effectively. As good ideas get passed on, the key team members in an organization start to wonder if this is the right place for them. In fact, the riskiest thing to do is not to take any risks at all as it provides an illusory effect to safety in the status quo. Time and again charities have been rendered obsolete or paralyzed into non-existence.
Something charities often have in abundance, over many other organizations, is the depth of talent. Business pay for talent and result. If they paid their employees to do nothing, their business plan is doomed. When someone is so passionate about an issue, that they’ll donate their time and skills for free. It is imperative not to waste it. By not using new ideas, due to indecision and/or leisurely application, is it similar to paying workers to be idle.
Despite these many challenges facing charities as a result of changing social norms and communication being facilitated by new technologies, there are ample opportunities and the most important point is to start. Begin with working with your leaders to understand what is the direction to move forward on as an organization, once that is in place the conversation about the kinds of technologies tends to unfold organically.
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Mindfield has successfully helped cause-based organizations to tackle major causes like hunger, volunteerism, and social justice using technology. Our clients become leading organizations differentiated with mission-critical technologies that scale and accelerate and help them achieve their mission and mandates. Our teams have successfully helped business leaders bring IT to the executive table. Mindfield specializes in custom software development, elearning for corporate training, and jira expert consulting.