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How charities can start to move to a digital-first way of working

There seems to be a lot of buzz, activity and chit-chat presently about charities and digital technology, which, of course we’re part of. At the heart of the conversation is the sentiment that voluntary and non-profit organisations need to do more to catch up with other sectors. Currently, it “lags well behind”.

This was expressed by the think tank NPC recently, as it launched a new programme aimed at transforming the perception charities have of digital technology and getting them to be more proactive in engaging with it.

Appropriately titled Digital Transformation, the scheme aims to pair companies from the third sector with “some of the biggest names in tech”, with a view in mind for giving them a generous helping hand in ultimately being a modern, forward-thinking and innovative enterprise.

“Private companies have been developing and harnessing innovative tech for years, to get better services to their customers,” commented Tris Lumley, director of development at NPC.

“The public sector is in on the act, too, as governments experiment with information-sharing and delivering services. Meanwhile charities lag some way behind.

“Digital Transformation aims to redress the balance, and get the charity sector involved in adapting the latest technology to its purposes. This can be small innovations or a complete overhaul of how some charities work. But at its best it can transform the fundamental architecture of the whole sector.”

Presently, NPC, as part of its programme, has whittled down its advice into four central ideas. This includes changing your mindset, investing in the right people, overhauling processes and utilising the right tools. It is currently in draft form, but the building blocks make a lot of sense.

For example, under the category of mindset, it highlights the importance of developing a mission statement and, moreover, getting everyone within an organisation to buy into it. Any digital ethos has to permeate throughout all departments and processes - it has to be part of your DNA.

With regards to people, that is a lot more challenging as managers will have their work cut out persuading certain individuals that not only is this the way forward, but they will have to change aspects of the way they work. Additionally, a move to digital will invariably lead to the hiring of new, tech-savvy talent.

Process is rather self-explanatory, but in short, what NPC advocates is a piecemeal approach to going digital, which it wonderfully expresses as “keeping your horizons short”. Note, it’s essential that this is a collaborative effort.

Finally, pertaining to tools, it states “assume it already exists” - there will be a cost-effective alternative to inefficient processes and equipment. As an example, consider the fact that a lot of your workflow is paper-heavy. This is labour-intensive and time-consuming. However, going digital - making all documents electronic - is the antithesis of this. And, best of all, it’s not going to break the bank.

Clearly we are reaching a tipping point. Charities need to appreciate the fact that in the 21st century, there is no excuse for not going digital. It’s counterproductive, not indicative of the times and a missed opportunity. Make it an asset and watch your enterprise flourish and continue to affect positive change in the lives of people and the world itself.

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