Digital technology is having a massive impact on every sector, and the charity sector is no different. From fundraising to service provision, developments in tech are shaping how charities operate and exist. Many of these are developed specifically with charities in mind, especially when we look at fundraising solutions that have entered the market in recent years.
However, while not specifically designed for charities, there is a growing selection of options available which can also help charities improve their communication, efficiency, and productivity – factors which can ultimately improve their impact. Importantly, a lot of these tools offer free versions perfectly suited to small charity teams, so there’s little excuse for not at least giving them a go.
Project management: Asana or Trello
Whether an individual works in project coordination or fundraising, working for a small charity can bring a lot of responsibility, accountability and pressure. With teams so often punching above their weight juggling multiple responsibilities, it’s no surprise it can be easy to get lost under a mountain of tasks and ‘to-do’ lists.
Organising your short, medium and long-term tasks and goals helps to separate the wood from the trees and enable you to plot a course through them. Thankfully, there’s now Asana and Trello, two free-to-use apps which provide all the features you need to say goodbye to post-it notes and ‘to do’ lists on scrap paper. The easy-to-use project and task management software can be a game-changer for small organisations looking to tighten up their processes, or for managers who like an overview of what their staff is working on.
Because it’s free there’s nothing stopping you introducing it for your team (additional features are available to paid subscribers if a little more functionality is needed). One word of warning – a badly managed Asana account or Trello board can be a daunting prospect, so staying on top of your tasks is vital. Thankfully, there are a lot of great tips out there for improving your use so you can make the most of what it has to offer.
Collaboration and communication: Teams or Slack
Slack has long been a firm favourite of startups and SMEs, especially those with a remote or part time workforce, providing a means for communication beyond email, where multiple people can host and partake in conversations and share files. It’s perfectly suited to small charity teams who might not have much crossover contact time in the office (if they even have one).
A more recent addition to this space is Microsoft’s Teams, which is now free. This wasn’t always the case, but in mid-2018 Microsoft took the long-overdue decision to introduce a free tier for smaller organisations, something that has seen the app grow its user base considerably, with it officially Microsoft’s fastest-growing app of all time.
This entry-level offering accommodates up to 300 users, 10GB of team storage (plus additional 2GB per person for personal storage) and has built-in audio and video calling for individuals, select groups and whole teams. Being a Microsoft product, it is also fully integrated with Office, with built-in holy trinity of Word, Excel and PowerPoint used by the vast majority of organisations everywhere.
Time Tracking: Toggl
Time tracking might be something you more readily attribute to freelance or agency work, but there’s a strong argument for more accurate recording across the charity sector, not least for fundraising, where the greatest resource is often time (or lack thereof), and the biggest challenge making the most of it. Knowing where time has been spent is the first step to strategically deciding where to invest it in future, so tracking it is imperative. This mentality is also applicable for core team hours spent on different activities, giving an organisation greater clarity on how much time and resources really are going on charitable activities as oppose to core costs.
Toggl is just one example, offering both free and paid-for options depending on your level of need (including discounts for charities and not-for-profits). While requiring more input from the user than fully automated offerings, it can arguably help users be more mindful of what they are doing at any given time.
File storage: Tresorit
With a free service for registered charities, a whopping 1TB of storage provided and a particular emphasis on data security, Tresorit is one of the lesser-known cloud storage platforms. However, it is also one that requires serious consideration. With GDPR now fully in effect, and the increasing danger of data hackers targeting charities, Tresorit’s end-to-end encryption means your files, documents and potentially sensitive information regarding service users and supporters have never been safer.
While the number of free users per charity account being capped at five means costs could add up for larger organisations (additional users are added on a paid subscription basis), it is a perfect solution for small charities which take their data protection seriously.
This is, of course, by no means an exhaustive list and any charity looking to adopt new digital technology should look into alternatives, too. However, there’s plenty here to get any small charity started in pursuit of a more efficient, streamlined organisation.
For a small charity lacking the capacity to run a full tender process, outsourcing can be a daunting prospect. Yet, as has been the case for a number of years, a shortage of skills in the sector remains one of the biggest obstacles to a small charity achieving meaningful growth.
By definition, small charities don’t have a lot of income though, so how can they obtain the skills needed to grow when recruiting a member of staff is beyond them?
Outsourcing is the obvious answer, especially when it comes to external communications and fundraising, although it’s also not always the right option for a small charity. Donors and supporters often form a loyalty to small organisations because they are small, and while not overly professional or polished, there is a belief they are impacting those most in need at a grass roots level. In handing over control of your external communications, for instance, there is a risk that existing supporters might interpret it as a move away from your identity, not to mention the chance they might disagree with the use of charitable funds for promotional purposes.
Working for a small organisation means every penny counts, but outsourcing is not just about the money – it’s a real leap of faith that takes a lot of trust. Often external agencies require agreements over a duration of time that simply isn’t feasible for a not for profit organisation with limited budget and no guaranteed - or even predictable - sources of income for the next quarter, let alone a year.
However, there are situations when outsourcing makes perfect sense as long as it’s done the right way.
While many agencies require long-term commitments, it’s not always the case. There are some who will offer short-term support for a particular activity, such as an appeal run over a defined limited period of time. Take for example the BBC’s Radio 4 and Lifeline appeals. While there is a fairly rigorous application process in order for a charity to be awarded an appeal, applications are open to all – regardless of size. It means they are a great way for small organisation to reach a wide audience without the associated marketing budgets.
Many might be content with the appeal in and of itself, but it also presents a fantastic opportunity to make that extra leap of faith and entrust the promotion of the appeal to the experts. Not only does the appeal then provide a platform to reach new audiences, but also to trial outsourcing as a way of working.
While it may be the first time a charity has looked beyond their organisation for this kind of support, a key factor to reducing risk in the decision-making process should be identifying a digital marketing agency with a solid track record of working with charities.
Although not a packed market space, there are a small but dedicated number of agencies (like us) who can help support small organisations with their external communications. Given they specialise in the third sector, you can expect them to know all-too-well the pressures on charities, so often offer affordable pricing, too.
Furthermore, they will often have a clearer understanding of what you are trying to achieve in a way specific to your cause. For small charities outsourcing these activities, it’s often the case that they are breaking new ground, so an experienced agency will be able to work with you to define your strategy and goals without compromising your message. A degree of hand-holding may be needed at first, but it won’t be new to any reputable agency who has worked in the third sector before.
More often than not in life, taking a first step can be a scary experience and a real leap of faith. But if you make the right steps, then one small step could turn out to be the giant leap your organisation needs.
We are living in an age where charities are under more scrutiny than arguably any other time in living memory. The sector has been rocked by high profile scandals from industry standard-bearers Oxfam and the WWF, seen acrimonious and very public shutdowns (Kids Company) and had to weather waves of bad publicity due to controversial approaches to data management and direct marketing tactics.
Public support has dipped, with fewer people giving to charity than previously. Furthermore, although overall levels of trust haven’t changed too much over the past few years, they remain at their lowest since way back in 2005, with a long-term increase in the number of people who are saying their trust has decreased. And those who feel they cannot trust charities as much as they once could are donating less as a result. The lesson? Trust is crucial for charities to fundraise – and even operate – effectively.
In the wake of this comes the new approach from the Fundraising Regulator, where the subject(s) and details of a complaint are made public. The decision was made by the Board of the Fundraising Regulator back in October 2018, and came into effect on 1 March 2019. The first set of 10 named investigation summaries was issued earlier this month, with the list including some industry big-hitters, with Macmillan Cancer Support, Alzheimer’s Society, The Salvation Army and the NSPCC all among those listed.
Transparency is becoming ever more important in the sector. Now that the Fundraising Regulator is bringing its approach more in line with that of the Charity Commission (which has publicly named organisations subject to investigations since June 2014), what could easily be a name-and-shame exercise at a time when charities need it least, has become an opportunity for the sector to start rebuilding public trust at a time when charities need it most.
A crucial element of the naming process is that it’s not just charities in the dock, but also the private companies they often enlist to undertake fundraising activities on their behalf. While not held in the same regard as charities, these fundraising companies nevertheless carry the reputation of charities in their hands whenever they interact with the public, be it in the street, on the doorstop or over the phone. So, to include them in a public naming complaints process will only help to draw a clearer line between the two types of organisation.
Why is this important? Put simply, in the event the fundraiser was in breach of the Code of Fundraising Practice, it reduces the reputational damage done to a charity with relatively little control over the behaviour of contracted fundraisers operating in their name. Of course, it is a charity’s responsibility to do its due diligence when selecting an agency, but that can only go so far – which is why the Regulator is needed.
In addition to the ability to separate the charity from blame, this new approach also clearly details the steps taken to date and what is expected next from the organisations involved. This will not only improve accountability, it also gives any interested members of the public rare insight into what is being done to improve the way funds are generated – especially at bigger charities. As a rule, the general public can reasonably accept mistakes will be made, as long as some learning and positive change comes out of the situation. Of course, it may mean there will be uncomfortable conversations to be had, and potential public relations issues to be managed, but if that is what it takes to get the public back on side, then in the long run it can only be a good thing.
I can still remember something I was told as part of training as a journalist some 20 years ago. When it comes to news, the further away it happens you have to add another zero onto the number of people who are killed, injured or affected before anyone ‘here’ will care.
He went on to say not only was it about distance in miles, but also distance in terms of lives and culture which made a massive difference. Ten people dying in a tragic school mini bus accident in France might make the front pages whilst at the same time hundreds of thousands of children were starving to death in Africa and you would not find a mention of it anywhere in the news pages.
It wasn’t racist, or pro- or anti- any country (I was told), it was merely about the connections our readers could and would make. They could imagine a child, brother or parent hurt in a tragic bus accident in neighbouring France, but it seemed our readers could or would not imagine famine and starvation on another continent. After all, didn’t caring - like charity - begin at home?
Sadly, there was always an agenda. A child went missing for a few hours from a posh part of town and the newsroom was all over the story. Yet a few weeks later when a colleague raised a report of a younger child missing on the other side of town my editor told him “Oh that estate, it’s not a story”. I am pleased to say both children turned up unharmed, but sad to say that is when I fell out of love with journalism. I wanted to write and care about everyone as equals and to me a child was a child, always innocent and in need of protection.
Whilst most people like to believe they are not judgemental most of us are. It would be easy to dismiss 20 years ago as a bygone era, yet sadly while people may no longer believe charity begins at home, there are still a significant number who believe charity should look or represent a very simple form or need. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the words – “yes but that is not a ‘real’ charity is it?”
Putting to one side the often-controversial issue of private fee-paying schools which could take up an article in its own right, it seems there are still charities which people do not consider to be equal to others. When I started my own C.I.C providing PR support, one of the main aims was to help the small charity sector get their voices heard, something I am passionate about.
But when I sent out a press release about an alternative therapy charity to a London-based online publication which was looking for stories for its charity pages, I was told it was commercial and I would need to pay for them to feature it. I emailed back and explained they were a membership body but they are also a charity that did a lot of important work. And when I didn’t hear back I picked up the phone to plead their case in person.
“No one really needs aromatherapy” I was told, “How is that an important cause?” I bit my lip, and remembered again why I got out of journalism. I explained that one of the key things they did was to help carers deliver aromatherapy to those in need in care homes and hospitals. And I told him that when my mother was in hospital with terminal cancer her day improved greatly by a volunteer trained in aromatherapy who came in to give her a hand massage with essential oils. It was relaxing and soothing. It was the kindness of human touch and fragrance in surroundings which by their very nature look and smell sterile.
I was told that was all well and good but it wasn’t a real charity, and the event the release was writing about it was just a PR stunt. They would publish it but I would have to pay. I didn’t pay, not only because neither the charity nor I had the budget, but because he was wrong. Scrolling back through the pages of his website I saw how just a month before they had published (as free content) a story about a much bigger well-known charity doing a very similar thing (a world record event). I couldn’t help but think it was probably because he had heard of them already, and as a charity all about hearts their ‘purpose’ was far clearer cut.
The thing about charity is we all have the choice to decide which we support, both in terms of cause and also who we want to give money to. But we don’t have the right to pick is what is a ‘real’ charity and what is not. In many instances people discount what they have not heard before about or don’t understand immediately. The result is the biggest organisations with massive PR and marketing budgets will always come up trumps and the grassroots ones miss out.
But actually, isn’t a charity a charity, much as a missing child is a missing child? And whilst they may not come from ‘our part of town’, we cannot and should not dismiss them, because the only real loser in that scenario is society itself.
You can also find this blog post on Charity Today.
We're celebrating our fourth anniversary this month!
What a time to be alive! Four years of supporting small charities, social enterprises, SMEs and startups with their PR and external comms. We've been lucky enough to work with some amazing organisations and even more amazing people. Thank you to everyone who has helped us keep helping others - especially the micro charities we're able to help for free!
To mark our fourth anniversary, we answered a couple of quick questions reflecting on our time with JGC:
The benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and charitable initiatives are well documented, from advantages in recruitment and employee engagement, to improved positioning in the marketplace, with over half of British adults more inclined to buy a product or use a service from a company that donates to charitable causes. But how do you choose which charity is right for you?
There are over 160,000 registered charities in the UK, with roughly 97% of them having an income of less than £1m a year. Yet when it comes time to pick a charity to support, businesses all-too-often opt for the biggest, best-known organisations. It’s a problem over 50% of small charities believe is their main obstacle to raising funds – and it’s not just a matter of perception, either. Household names such as the RSPCA, NSPCC, Cancer Research UK account for almost half of the total £37bn raised ever year by the charity sector.
The reasons are obvious. Brand visibility and exposure help to cement their place in the public’s consciousness, and tackling universal issues like cancer or child abuse gives them widespread appeal. But if you look beyond the big names you’ll find small charities have a lot more going for them than you might expect, and present a great opportunity for any company looking to change or introduce an approach to CSR. Here’s why.
You’d be surprised what they can achieve
More and more small charities are broadening their areas of operations. Between 1999 and 2014 there was over a 250% increase in the number of UK charities working overseas, a great example being Music as Therapy International. Despite a modest budget last year their music projects reached over 17,000 vulnerable people in eight countries worldwide, including several communities within the UK.
Just because a charity is small, doesn’t mean it can’t have impressive reach and impact.
It could be the start of a beautiful relationship
The bigger the charity name, the more likely it is to already receive support from other companies. Choosing a lesser known, smaller cause can help to differentiate you from your competitors, and build a genuine connection between your organisations.
This is significant because a strong relationship between a charity and sponsor can be the gift that keeps on giving – for both parties. They might not have the biggest turnover or profile today, but a well-run small charity has bags of potential to grow in size, stature and influence. If you can play a major part in their story, their success will be yours to share.
Your donation really will make a difference
The purpose of charitable giving is to make a difference, but is your contribution a game-changer, or just another drop in the ocean to finance large salaries, marketing and admin budgets?
One 2015 report found over 1,000 large charities spent less than 50% of their income on charitable activities, which should be a cause for concern for anyone serious about CSR.
By comparison, many small charities are run by dedicated trustees and willing volunteers with no wage bill to speak of. This is the case with dog rescue and re-homing charity Finding Furever Homes, who in their first three years have re-homed almost 500 dogs, and donated over £100,000 to cover the vet and food bills of dogs in rescues throughout the UK. Organisations like these are run on a shoestring; so if you want to know your support is really going to make a difference, think small charity for a big impact.
Where to start?
Picking a charity can be a very personal choice, but once a decision is made on the type of cause, there really is no substitute for doing your homework. A charity’s recent accounts can be found through the Charity Commission, or you could simple call or pay them a visit to discuss their needs and how you could help. But remember, regardless of whom you choose to support, it’s doing it that counts.
[You can also find this post on CEO Today]
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