As part of Information Age’s Change the World series, Karl Wilding, director of public policy and volunteering at NCVO discusses how technology can transform the charity sector.
In this interview, Wilding elaborates on the transformative potential of digital technology for the voluntary and community sector, while exploring examples of technology that can have the greatest possible impact and application.
How can technology improve the charity sector? In what ways?
Technology can help charities to make a bigger difference to the causes they are working on. That might be holding meetings using video conferencing or staying regularly in touch with supporters using social media.
As people increasingly use technology in their own lives, they’ll expect charities to use it too. So just as people enjoy online banking or might look for a job on the web, they’ll want to be able to donate quickly and effortlessly using their mobile phone or find a volunteering opportunity that’s relevant to them using a search tools that they can tailor to their interests.
How is technology modernising the charity sector, allowing charities to overcoming barriers and enabling transformations?
Lots of these tools are putting our supporters in control. Whether people are giving time or money, sharing their skills or campaigning, technology means that energy and good ideas are coming from our supporters – and our role as charities increasingly will be to channel and organise those energies and help people to make a bigger difference to the causes they care about.
That’s the biggest change – but technology is modernising the way that we deliver services and run our organisations too. Some of this is relatively simple – providing online training courses, or sending text message reminders before an appointment.
But some of this is more complex or disruptive to the way we’ve done things before: using mobile phones to map problems in crisis-hit areas, developing large-scale peer-to-peer advice services, or 3-D printing for personalised prosthetic limbs. The mobile phone is central to much of this.
What types of technologies can influence and transform charities’ operations?
Many of the technologies that are deployed widely and are genuinely transformational are mundane and mature. A good example would be a CRM system that helps charities connect with supporters and helps them to strengthen and deepen their relationship with them.
The mobile phone that allows someone to make a short video and tell the story of the impact that the charity has had on their life. The video conferencing web app that makes communications with a field office hundreds of miles away cheap and easy.
The online giving platform that enables friends to fundraise together without bits of paper or the hassle of handling cash, never mind chasing up someone who promised you a tenner if you poured a bucket of ice water over your head. These everyday, mature, off-the-shelf cheap technologies are what charities need to focus on.
What are the challenges in implementing digital technologies to a charity’s operations/strategy?
One of the challenges is the converse of the above: seemingly attractive proprietary solutions to problems that you didn’t quite realise that you had. There are other challenges: spending on technology is risky and hard for charity boards who are charged with stewarding carefully accumulated cash reserves.
And not all charities have the digital skills, whether strategic or operational, to engage with the agenda. For those out there with digital skills and experience, becoming a charity trustee is just about one of the most useful and rewarding things you could do.