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.
The early to mid-90s sit-com The Fresh Prince of Bel Air is beloved of a generation on both sides of the Atlantic. It re-launched the multi-faceted career of Will Smith, at the time rebounding from the career low of squandering his early fortune following a Grammy award with Jazzy Jeff.
But the series wasn’t just a career launchpad for its lead. Behind the laughter and family commentary, there can be found a lot of lessons to be learned about setting up and running a business. While they might not initially be the most obvious, once you’ve read this article, you’ll never watch an episode in the same way again.
Have a story — and tell it
The theme tune for the Fresh Prince of Bel Air is one of the best known of its generation. If you don’t believe me, check out this audience sing a long on Graham Norton from back in 2012. But it’s not just catchy — it tells Will’s backstory. It tells you everything you need to know about the character, where he comes from, what his character is like, why he finds himself in Bel Air. In the space of two minutes we know Will is more interested in chilling out and playing basketball than fighting, and when the time comes, he does what his mother tells him. Moreover, it prefaces every episode, so you never forget who he is, even as the seasons and years roll on.
As a business founder, you will have a story too. What inspired you as a young entrepreneur? Why did you set up your company? What are you hoping to achieve? This is your story and it’s a vital element of who you are a business. It helps you to differentiate from your competitors, too.
Be different, and use it
Which brings me to my next point. One of the most important things to keep in mind when starting a business is how to differentiate yourself from your competition. In The Fresh Prince, Will is by default different from his familial hosts having been born and raised in West Philadelphia.
But it is this difference, his being a ‘fish out of water’, which makes the show. Not only that, but through his differences to those around him, Will is able to influence their way of thinking, living, even talking, challenging and disrupting the existing status quo. Your business needs to be and do the same.
Pick your partners carefully
When Will relocates from Philly to Bel Air he doesn’t come alone. Jazzy Jeff, his best friend comes too, frequently calling in on him, only to be summarily tossed out by an angry Uncle Phil. It’s one of the running jokes of the series, but it also illustrates an important point. Despite being evicted on numerous occasions, Jeff returns, never swayed or cowed by his rejection.
The old adage says to keep your friends close but enemies closer. While this may be of use in the Machiavellian hallways of power, when you’re starting out with a new business enterprise you could do a lot worse than having someone you trust beside you, especially if they are as resilient and persistent as Jazzy Jeff. After all, business can be a bruising experience.
Legal advice is about more than just legislation
Uncle Phil is an esteemed lawyer, who then becomes a judge in the fourth season. Throughout the running of the show, on countless occasions his status and knowledge are called upon to rescue Will, Jeff and on occasion even Carlton from sticky situations they have found themselves in. His legal counsel is invaluable to the young men growing up on the show. Yet his influence extends beyond that. Despite an admittedly short temper, Uncle Phil also provides many of the show’s most profound moments, providing moral guidance to those in his charge. It’s worth remembering that issues of law don’t always align with morals — tax evasion is a prime example — and you should be wary of veering too far from your principles in search of success.
Employees should be more than paid staff
Geoffrey, the house butler, is often an invaluable source of comedic relief, not least due to his traditionally stiff upper lip. However, as the family grow, a theme revisited time and again is of his value to the family, not only as a paid member of staff, but as someone who given the opportunity will generally (albeit begrudgingly) have their best interests at heart.
However, Geoffrey’s ongoing pay dispute with Uncle Phil is one of the main negatives about the latter’s character, and serves to illustrate to any entrepreneur why valuing your staff is vital to a positive working environment — and business success.
Any entrepreneur keeping these points in mind as they make their way in business could find the show could be as much a springboard for their career as it was for Will Smith in the early 90s. Because although the show may be showing its age, the ideas behind it are undoubtedly still Fresh.
[This blog post was also featured in Total Business Magazine]
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