In the past few months alone, some of the larger charities, such as the British Heart Foundation and Breast Cancer Care, have launched new Amazon Alexa capabilities to allow people to donate through Alexa gadgets.
These are the beginnings of organisations in the sector using much vaunted artificial intelligence. So, by this time next year, will other charities have followed this advanced path, including the wider use of digital fundraising platforms, innovative mobile apps, gamification to deliver better results, and the adoption of cryptocurrencies as part of their digital transformation efforts? Stuart Toller, director at DAM Digital, is slightly sceptical.
“Very few charities, such as the British Heart Foundation, have enough of their digital ducks in a row that they can justify spending on new technology over spending that money on improving existing services, systems or processes,” he says.
“Whilst being the first to market with an Alexa-based help and advice service might gain some valuable publicity, it’s unlikely to significantly increase income or improve service performance and reach for the majority of charities. It’s important to keep that in mind when looking at all the new shiny things.”
Another sceptic is Ed Gairdner, chief operating officer at charitable giving platform The Good Exchange. “While some larger players are making use of the latest technologies on offer – like voice-activated tools at The British Heart Foundation and the British Red Cross – even if smaller and local charities want to use new technologies, they’re unlikely to have the necessary resources to do so,” Gairdner says.
“The charitable sector is currently operating between five and 10 years behind the commercial sector when it comes to embracing the digital revolution.”
But Krystyna Grant, head of innovation at the British Heart Foundation explains that the BHF and other larger charities have a "responsibility to our beneficiaries to keep up with the technological pace of change and meet our audience where they are online."
“Our Amazon Alexa skill opens up a new channel for donations and allows us to engage with a new audience. Almost a quarter of people in the UK now own one or more smart home devices and around one in 10 own a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo. This is likely to grow, highlighting a huge opportunity for engaging people with our work using this type of technology. Our new skill gives us a great opportunity to test the use of voice technology in a simple way at low cost," she explains.
"We can’t afford to ignore the changing ways in which consumers behave or the potential of new technologies to enable us to have a bigger impact on our beneficiaries.”
Social media and advertising giant Facebook recently made its Workplace by Facebook online collaboration tool free for all not-for-profits worldwide. A number are already using the technology to help expedite the work they do, such as WWF, Save the Children and Oxfam.
WWF has been using Workplace to power Earth Hour, its global movement to help protect different species and the planet. Annette Gevaert, head of Workplace for Good at Facebook, says: “Social media and collaboration platforms have become incredibly powerful assets for charities in 2018, and this will continue into 2019 and beyond.”
WWF has been using Workplace to increase awareness and engagement of their events. WWF’s annual conference was traditionally attended by senior stakeholders and C-level executives alone, but is now broadcast to the charity’s entire worldwide staff via Workplace live (HD streaming within Workplace).
“Features such as this led to employee engagement increasing by more than 200% and has given WWF the opportunity to gain valuable insight and suggestions from its employees at all levels,” Gevaert explains.
The Workplace mobile app also gives WWF employees in the field the ability to share photos and videos with headquarters or other teams easily. And auto-translation tools help break down cultural or linguistic barriers.
Also using Workplace, Save the Children volunteers were able to highlight the refugee crisis from boats in the Mediterranean back to their headquarters in real-time via live video streaming. Not only is this solution free, it also uses the familiar Facebook user interface, so there should be a smooth technology “buy-in” among staff at organisations of all sizes.
Mobile for giving
Generating hard cash through donors’ every day purchases is now a growing opportunity. The Give as you Live app is one of several that is now being taken up by charities. Annabelle Risdon, director and head of partnerships at shopping and fundraising website Give as you Live, says: “With cash use declining, many charities know how difficult it is to do traditional fundraising these days, so having other options is vital. That said, many charities don’t have the resources to build their own technology to fundraise digitally.”
To help solve this problem, the Give as you Live mobile app became available this year on Apple iOS, with an Android version for other devices due out in early 2019. Shoppers can use the app to raise money for charities as they buy things at more than 4,300 retailers.
The Border Collie Trust, located in Staffordshire, is one of the many charities benefitting. Recently, it had to relocate its kennels to make way for the HS2 high-speed rail link. Through the app and other digital assets provided by Give as you Live, the charity raised more than £10,000.
Lyn Prodger, corporate partnerships manager at children’s charity my AFK, another organisation using the app, says: “We’ve got hundreds of Give as you Live supporters who’ve raised more than £10,000 for my AFK. The unrestricted funding we receive helps fund specialist mobility equipment, employment opportunities and training for the disabled young people we work with.”
Cryptocurrencies for good
There are millions of computers that are left idle, so why not put them to good use to raise money for charity? Cudo is a technology that turns unused or wasted computing power into cryptocurrency.
Whilst computers are idling, Cudo uses this spare capacity to generate income for charities by “mining” for electronic currency. So far, Cudo Donate has been adopted by The Children’s Air Ambulance and War Child. Founder Matt Hawkins’ mission is to “raise $1bn for charity within the next five years”.
Hawkins says: “From UNICEF to the RNLI, charities are waking up to the immense power of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology [the secure data sharing and transaction system]. Using a technology-driven approach should allow charities to attract a new, younger but also tech-savvy demographic.
“This could be of critical importance when you consider that the average age of supporters for some charities is 60 plus. Who will replace this demographic if charities can’t attract the youth of today?”
Hawkins explains that cryptocurrencies do not have to replace any existing revenue streams, but could attract new supporters. “For example, many charities use direct debits to get people signed-up and committed to a payment stream. Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology does away with the need for direct debits and may attract a different kind of supporter, who either doesn’t want the hassle of setting up a DD, or worries about the security implications of having their financial data with a third party,” says Hawkins.
Gamification and measuring impact
It’s hard to collect data on the impact of campaigns, even though this is important to help raise future funds. Makerble aims to make it easier to collect the information by using gamification. It helps charities collaborate on projects, track individual beneficiaries, collect survey results, analyse progress towards outcomes and share ideas.
Wave Trust’s 70/30 Network is a grassroots campaign that has become a national movement powered by the Makerble platform, and The African Foundation for Development is now using Makerble to streamline its impact measurement and frameworks for reporting back to funders.
Charities can start for free, then upgrade if they need to, picking the services that are right for their needs. Charities with an annual income of less than £50,000 can apply for a year’s free pass on the platform.
“Impact measurement doesn’t have to be boring, we can make it fun, easy and accessible, with user-friendly tools and games,” says Makerble. The system replaces paper-based forms, surveys and spreadsheets with an all-in-one tool that staff, volunteers and donors can hopefully enjoy using.
All these technologies do not involve charities having to rip out the systems they already use, they are designed to complement what they have, which is a safer and more gradual approach to digital transformation.