Pivoting Your Reach: The Importance Of Digital For The Charity Sector in 2021

by Jennifer Green, January 28th, 2021

Digital Transformation, Tech For Good

According to a survey from Pro Bono Economic, nine-in-ten charities have noted that the pandemic has affected their ability to complete objectives in a negative way. One of the most challenging issues facing charities is service delivery as the sudden inability to deliver regular face-to-face services due to social distancing restrictions has created difficulties overall.

However, as 2020 has come and gone, it has become clear to us at Borne that many charities were able to digitise service delivery and finding innovative ways to reach people. Some charities moved their service delivery through platforms like Zoom and maintaining regular contact with people in need. Others focussed their efforts towards the online space, with digital support groups and hubs, information packs, and other free services. We cannot forget the social distancing restrictions that we are still facing in the UK and it continues to define service delivery in 2021. Many of the changes in services delivery that have emerged since the pandemic began, it will certainly continue in the future, as charities need to realise the benefits of digital service delivery.

The Importance of Digital

Charities have pivoted towards a period of accelerated digitisation in 2020 and have continued into 2021. Digital tech has been integral to charities’ ability to function during the pandemic, allowing them to provide much-needed services despite their inability to provide services-in-person.

The adaption may have been a bit slow to start, but the charity sector seems to have found their feet. And there have been plenty of success stories. Shooting Star Children’s Hospices, as an example, have created support groups via Zoom and developed a ‘hub’ on their website, offering fun activities and resources to children with serious health conditions.

The National Childbirth Trust has moved their antenatal classes online, providing future parents with an effective service from the comfort of their own homes. The charity also focussed on delivering up-to-date and essential information on their website, including resources to help people understand how COVID-19 might affect pregnancy and the early stages of parenthood.

St Barnabas Hospice has also put together a digital bereavement guide which aims to provide individual support, including calls over Zoom and virtual meeting spaces. Back in May 2020, the charity teamed up with bereavement support specialists Guardian Angel to launch a free online and telephone service to support people who needed to make a will during the lockdown. All these charities and many more have shown that shifting to digital does not prevent effective service delivery and many charities have noticed the immediate advantages.

Increasing Your Reach

The limitations of in-person service delivery can minimise the reach of certain charities, depending on the nature of the charity. Charities focused on homelessness, for example, have struggled with digital service delivery, as the service they provide is predominantly in-person.  But other charities have found that the shift to digital actually increases their reach. Charity staff were quick to realise that digital tools, such as Zoom, Slack, Miro, Monday, Trello, Asana, and Microsoft Teams, help to provide effective service delivery without face-to-face contact. These tools will be used in the future, regardless of social distancing restrictions.

Making use of online channels for service delivery has enabled digital leaders to reach new audiences that are more naturally dependent on digital. Charities increased the use of social, incorporated digital products into their marketing strategy, dedicated greater resources to their websites and integrated new formats like podcasts and video content into their strategy.

Auditory Verbal UK is one of many charities that shifted to digital services so they could continue to deliver auditory and verbal therapy sessions for deaf children. They moved quickly to adopt digital elements and consequently extended their overall reach. The charity is based in London, but since social distancing restrictions were put in place they began serving people beyond the capital who might not have been able to afford the cost of travelling to access services. In the future, charities will likely combine digital service delivery with necessary in-person service delivery, allowing them to extend their reach even wider and maintain vital services.

Money-Saving Strategies

By digitising service delivery, charities can save money and time. One of the disadvantages of in-person service delivery is the potential cost to both the person the charity is serving and the charity itself. Either party may need to travel, which is costly and time-consuming. The travel costs could be better spent on other services, especially if the service could be supplied digitally.

Charities can reach more people with simple and cost-efficient measures, such as providing necessary information on websites, utilising social media and having effective resources accessible for everyone. However, many charities are going one step further, adopting self-service led models that can help as many people as possible with minimum expenditure. The models offer automated services that require no expenditure for the charity and can help with users’ needs.

When it comes to self-service tools, there are other benefits too. They are a convenient way for users who want to access support in the evening hours or over the weekend period instead of working hours. And they can help people who would rather not have an in-person interaction. Self-service tools do limit the personal touch, which is considered essential for some service users. But charities can offer self-service tools in concert with delivering in-person services, reaching more people and continuing to deliver the appropriate support throughout the pandemic and pivot themselves towards digital transformation to survive and thrive.

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