If you’re a charity, digital can be a daunting challenge. Here’s what ‘tech’ and ‘digital’ mean in practice:
Yes, you’re right that this stuff IS important. Not only that, it’s essential.
You don’t have to be an expert and can start small. Getting things wrong is part of the process — that’s OK and it’s expected. Everyone’s learning. Breaking down big projects into manageable, incremental steps will help you stay focused while minimising the resources required.
First and foremost, understand your context and the needs of whoever you’re aiming to help. Sure, get inspiration from elsewhere, but that’s no substitute for really deeply understanding specific behaviours and expectations that you need to respond to in order for any tech to be used and useful.
Test a new piece of tech or a new digital approach for a time-bound period, e.g. two weeks, after which review usage as a team and make a decision about whether to continue or change direction. This can combat the paralysis that comes with putting off a big decision, and deal with internal scepticism of new ways of working.
Speak to other small charities about what they’ve done to solve a particular problem, and what they learned from the process. Also, crucially, speak to the end users of the service themselves (be it an internal or external service) about what tech they are using in their day-to-day work. It might throw up previously unknown or unexpected avenues for improvements that build on existing habits.
The pace of change is always increasing, and creating a culture of learning is essential to ensuring an organisation keeps abreast of new developments in technology and its applications/implications. Embed reflective behaviours and knowledge-sharing into the day-to-day through bringing colleagues together over food (a great motivator!).
With funds and time tight, don’t reinvent the wheel, use the experiments of other small charities and experts to guide decisions and involve service users in testing.
We’ve compiled resources to help small voluntary organisations on their tech journey.
Click here to see how you can map your response to change using digital and tech approaches.Catalyst ‘Live and Online Storytelling Service’
Click here for a useful resource page to plan and support your approaches with content on leadership; strategy; designing activities; services and products; funding; accessibility; data insights; cybersecurity, and communications.NCVO digital and technology resource page
Click here to read Zoe Amar’s tips on how to approach hybrid working.Hybrid working by DigiLeaders
Click here to read the #BeyondTheRules blog by Dark Matters Lab, exploring practical tools for a new type of organising, with the purpose of creating ‘public good’.#BeyondTheRules blog by Dark Matters Lab
Click here to be inspired by the successful tech stories by other organisations and to submit your own!Catalyst ‘Success Stories’ feed
Click here to see a list of groups for support with digital, service design, data, communications, marketing, social media and fundraising.Third Sector Forum
Click here for your one-stop shop for all the tech and digital resources out there for voluntary organisations.Catalyst resources page
Click here to learn about the initiative that enables increased understanding, closer alignment, and opportunities for funder collaboration in response to Covid-19. It aims to enhance the effectiveness and impact of individual and collective responses by funders.Funders Collaborative Hub
Click here for more information on how Catalyst is changing.Catalyst’s transition
If you want to be an effective funder of small organisations, you need to develop your digital literacy or to partner with organisations that can provide this expertise.
Ensure assessment processes do not disadvantage the iterative nature of digital development, and work to ensure assessment structures and decisions reward recognised best practice (such as Better Digital Services and the Charity Digital Code). That means treating digital confidence and competence as a ‘must have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’.
Become familiar and confident in processes that manage risk and minimise waste in digital projects. This confidence includes accepting learning and change as a necessary part of developing services in a digital context – build flexibility and support into your processes, systems and reporting.
Failure as part of learning is a positive – as long as it is in pursuit of charitable goals.
Think seriously about how you might support the infrastructure, training and experimentation costs associated with ‘digital transformation’ in small organisations, in order for them to be resilient and fully able to respond to the changing needs of their communities. Small organisations cannot be expected to take a leap forward without proper, flexible support.
Funders can develop and share knowledge about tech and its use, and, where appropriate, help to stimulate small voluntary organisations to experiment more. Talking about specific examples of use is central to broadening the horizons of what’s possible and appropriate in different contexts. Facilitating spaces for these conversations enables both small voluntary organisations and funders to learn and develop together.
Covid-19 forced charities to experiment with tech. For many, this enabled them to become more accessible and relevant to their communities, and to explore new ways to tackle the digital divide. We followed the journeys of four charities responding to Covid-19 through digital.
Small charities have come up with bold, creative and thoughtful ways to maintain contact with users digitally. They followed digital best practice in reusing what’s out there, as well as testing and tweaking as they go. By responding in this way, charities have proven that digital is indeed possible – and sometimes even preferable.
Many small charities have been driving new practice around what inclusive, human connection-focused and responsible use of digital looks and feels like.
The pandemic has magnified the digital divide – small charities have been trying to find ways of resourcing blended service models that offer choice and cater for a wide spectrum of digital access and confidence levels. While concerns over digital exclusion have led to some hesitancy over the use of tech, charities understand that achieving digital inclusion can unlock people’s access to a vast array of services and resources.
We believe these granular insights into how small charities have embraced digital tech over the pandemic complement broader work around how digital tools and approaches are used by the sector. We hope this supports both charities’ and funders’ thinking about the role of tech – for their own organisations and the sector as a whole.
Annie Caffyn, Researcher at IVAR and Ellie Hale, Catalyst Producer at CAST