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According to a recent study by Tech Trust, 59% of UK charities still do not have a digital strategy in place, with the majority lacking investment in the tools and training needed to implement it.

Given the benefits, this statistic is somewhat shocking. The same report suggests that charities with a digital strategy are in a far better position than those without. 92% of digitally-focused charities say they expect to increase their measurable impact due to investment in technology, while survey respondents also cited increased donations, increased productivity, and efficiency as a result.

So, what role is technology playing for these charities, and how is it impacting the sector as a whole? Here’s more on the topic.

Technology to tackle homelessness
A large number of charities have invested in contactless payment technology in the past few years, largely to make up for an increasingly cashless society (and the subsequent effect this has on donations). We’ve seen the likes of Cancer Research and Sue Ryder integrate cashless options in both store windows and hospices; Macmillan and NSPCC also use the technology for street-based fundraising.

Homeless charities are also using contactless technology to help those affected by the decline in cash usage. In fact, we’ve also seen a number of new organisations being established solely for this purpose. TAP London is one prominent example – a non-profit that uses contactless payments to help improve the lives of homeless people in the capital.

Recently, London mayor Sadiq Khan launched a new campaign in partnership with TAP, involving 35 cashless donation points being set up in London to allow for donations to the 22 charities that make up the London Homeless Charities Group. From the results so far, it’s clear that the technology is both effective and well-received. Reports suggest that Londoners have tapped to donate 2,581 times already, raising £7,743 in just two weeks’ post-launch.

Cashless payment isn’t the only area of tech that is benefiting homeless charities. Beam is a crowdfunding platform that uses technology to help transition rough sleepers from welfare dependency into work by providing the support and training they need. Anyone can sign up to the online network and either make a one-time donation (which is shared equally between all Beam members) or a monthly donation to support specific cases.

The reason Beam is so innovative is because it breaks down barriers that often prevent people from helping homeless people, both in the practical sense (ease and convenience of donating) and the psychological sense (feeling secure in where their money is going). With Beam, people are able to give money easily, as well as find out where and how it is helping those on the receiving end.

Apps to streamline operations
Alongside fundraising, digital technology is also being used to streamline and improve processes within charities. This is mostly in the form of apps, which are used by employees and volunteers to help speed up and simplify administrative tasks, as well as execute support.

One of the best examples of this is Age UK’s ‘Steps’ app, which is designed to support staff as they conduct conversations with older people. It allows them to take comprehensive notes, offers up topics of conversation, and create shareable action plans.

These processes, which were previously convoluted and time-consuming, are not only streamlined through the app, but help to ensure staff offer a comprehensive and conscientious service.

This is particularly important to note, as technology is often thought of as replacing, or being detrimental to, the human touch that is so key for charities. However, examples like the ‘Steps’ app demonstrate that technology can actually serve as a tool to enhance human relationships.

Other digital initiatives from Age UK, such as its online chatbot, have also proven to be successful. According to Webcredible – the agency behind Age UK’s digital transformation – digital projects have resulted in a 50% increase in volunteer sign-up conversion, as well as a 24% increase in repeat website users, and a 16% increase in unique users.

Again, this shows how investment can benefit charities in an internal capacity – not just customer-facing.

The benefits of blockchain
Another form of technology with big implications for the charity sector is blockchain. To clarify, this is essentially a decentralised electronic database of transactions, whereby data is stored across a peer-to-peer network instead of a central database managed by a third party.

One of the main reasons blockchain – which is most often used to transfer digital currencies – holds opportunity for charities is that it creates greater transparency. It allows for the tracking of payments from the donor to the beneficiary, which gives everyone greater confidence in how money is being put to good use.

One platform offering charities this kind of service is Alice, which is built on the Ethereum blockchain network. In a report from Charity Futures, Ethereum is described as “one of the most exciting examples of blockchain and how it can be used … it’s a much more ambitious application of blockchain [than the technology that underpins Bitcoin]”.

Ethereum has the capability to distribute and execute computer code, which means that – as stated in the report – “you can not only transfer digital currency to another person on the network, but also the conditions under which they should be paid.”

Homeless charity St. Mungo’s was one of the first charities to use Alice, allowing people to track the impact of their donations. The platform allowed donors to request a refund if they felt their donation did not result in the promised end goal. Of course, while this increases transparency, it also means charities tend to be wary of the technology, and the alien and complex nature of blockchain can also prevent the government and the public from fully embracing it.

That being said, there have been a few high-profile charities, including the Red Cross and Save the Children, that have jumped on board with blockchain, and now fully accept Bitcoin payments as donations.

Tech to teach those in need
As well as helping people in direct need, a large percentage of charity work is dedicated to giving people skills and education to help them transition into normal life (and to sustain it). Like Beam, which helps rough sleepers transition into society, charities are using technology to similarly empower people.

Help Refugees is one example of an organisation with this goal. It has always utilised technology on the ground – it hands out smartphones to refugees that it knows are in particular danger. It also invests in technological education, such as by funding ‘Code Your Future’ – a non-profit which teaches refugees to become developers.

Paper Airplanes is another charity with a similar aim. It provides peer-to-peer language and professional skills to young people affected by conflict in the Middle East and North Africa. Through Skype and other online communication platforms, it is able to bring education to those who can’t access expensive or long-distance training programs that would usually help them to find employment. It’s a simple example of technology usage, but one that demonstrates its real power.

In conclusion…
As Tech Trust’s report states, charities have the potential to improve almost every aspect of their operations – from internal efficiency to online user experience – with a greater focus on digital strategy.

For charities still in the 59% said to be lagging behind (at least in the UK), examples like Age UK, Beam, and St. Mungo’s prove that technology – regardless of how small or large the organisation in question – is a worthwhile investment.

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