Earlier this month, MAST ICT attended the Charity Tech Conference hosted by Civil Society Media. Our consultants enjoyed meeting other non-profit professionals and learning what the digital future holds for the third sector.
Defining the meaning of ‘digital’
Opening the session was Steve Armstrong, head of digital at Marie Curie, who defined what ‘digital’ means perfectly, saying “we can’t define what digital is because it will be out of date.”
Jane Collins, chief executive of Marie Curie, also gave her opinion during the session and set out her top tips for managing a change programme.
Virtual reality was an exciting topic at the CTC as it’s something that proved fairly new to everyone. Leizia Perna-Forrest, head of patient and family support at Royal Trinity Hospice, led the talk and discussed her charity’s work with Flix Films to develop virtual reality services for its beneficiaries, including VR headsets to play specially-designed films. A delegate from Sue Ryder, who spoke from the audience, also said her charity was looking into virtual reality opportunities.
Not all charities should be digital by default
We agree with Kay Boycott, chief executive of Asthma UK, who discussed how she doesn’t think all charities should be rushing to adopt a digital-by-default approach, as what works for one audience doesn’t always work for another.
A good example of this is a fantastic campaign by Depaul Charity, which provides a bed for the night for children in crisis, keeping them safe and helping them to avoid homelessness. In cases like these, technology can only go so far before the human touch is needed. It’s about striking the right balance between the two and tailoring your services to your audience.
Use less PDF files
A really insightful talk from Jo Wolfe, digital strategy expert at Breast Cancer Care, revealed that the average digital capabilities of organisations in the third sector are only reaching 50%, according to the Third Sector Digital Maturity Index (used by over 800 charities).
The target is for this to increase to 88% in the next few years and one way Jo explained how charities can do this, is to improve the presentation of their annual reports by making them more searchable online i.e. dedicated landing pages instead of PDFs which are more difficult to optimise for search.
Integration of disparate systems
A particularly interesting topic at the CTC this year was integration, something MAST ICT are highly experienced in. Rob Gethen Smith, head of customer engagement at Blackbaud Europe, explored the idea that one big CRM system is not necessarily the best answer for every charity or non-profit organisation, and instead integration can be more beneficial. Looking at the Donorfy model in particular, it’s possible to tailor your system by integrating programs when they are needed such as EventBrite and MailChimp.
In order to comply with GDPR, you need to be able to use your systems to easily extract personal data on request. Whether it’s information on your supporters, donors, fundraisers, members or stakeholders, after 25th May 2018 under GDPR they will have “right of access by the data subject”.
Therefore, it’s important to take data storage seriously and address any problems right away. This is where integration of disparate systems comes in, read the full blog post here.
On a simplistic level, blockchain technology is a system where contracts are held on a distributed public ledger, instead of a third party, making them more secure and in theory could be used to alter how charities and non-profit organisations are run.
Rhodri Davis, programme leader of Giving Thought, discussed how this technology was already being used and that charities needed to start using it too. He said because the pace of change is so fast, “we don’t have the luxury of time”.
Ian Williamson, IT Strategy Expert and Trustee of Charity IT Leaders, talked about the possibility of the traditional IT team not existing in the future, with IT skills becoming part of the individual teams and departments. Emerging technologies paired with a new tech-savvy generation have left many traditional office functions irrelevant and outdated. The session explored the impact of these changes on charities of all sizes.
“If you think there is a lot of technology now, just wait ten years. It’s going to be completely embedded,” he said. “Every department in a charity will be to some degree a technology department.”
He suggested that IT should become more like the finance or human resources department and exist to “keep an eye on the whole picture” but give departments more responsibility over what they use.