Charities’ access to AI and innovative tech set to escalate in 2022

Charities’ ability to access artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and other innovative technology to better support beneficiaries is set to increase markedly in the coming months, according to the NCVO’s Road Ahead 2022 report.

The report, which looks at key trends in the sector over the next year, says that the roll out of 5G wireless technology is set to revolutionise how charities use technology.

The mobile tech is up to 100 times faster than 4G and “means that thousands of devices will be able to connect at once in small geographic areas”.

This has “enormous positive implications” for charities in transferring large amounts of data, using live video feeds as well as making use of AI and machine learning (ML), says the sector body’s report.

Examples it gives is for conservation charities to use drones to monitor and maintain natural environments.

Developing home based devices to monitor and help manage beneficiaries’ health is another example given, as is the increased use of augmented and virtual reality experiences by charities.

But the report warns that in the short-term charities “are likely to be restricted” by a lack of digital skills in the sector.

Last September Data Orchard published a survey on data maturity that only one in 20 charity leaders are prioritising their use of data and two thirds of charities are warning that their “leadership is not convinced abouot the value of data”.

Also last year, the Charity Digital Skills report found that 28% of charities rate their digital capabilities as “poor”, although this is better than 2020’s figure of 40%.

The NCVO’s Road Ahead report says: “Boards and leadership teams should keep an eye on the rapid increase in availability and accessibility of these (digital) tools and consider how their organisation might make use of them.

“This will require considering both the huge potential benefits, but also the challenges around understanding data, identifying unreliable data or weak analyses, and using data in a scientifically way.”

NCVO recommends charities consider whether their current digital skills capacity is “fit for purpose” and how “technological changes may affect your organisation in one, five- and ten-years’ time”.

In addition, charities are advised to assess whether trustees “have a solid understanding of technological advancements and the opportunities that new technologies present to your organisation”.

Blockchain caution

Blockchain technology, which is used to power cryptocurrencies, is another technological growth area in recent years, says the NCVO’s Road Ahead report.

“There is a clear potential for charities to attract significant donations from financial asset types that are performing well – and several cryptocurrencies have already introduced transaction fees that are donated to charity,” it states.

But it remains cautious around charities using such technology in terms of assessing the transparency of the source of donations.

It concludes that “the extent to which blockchain will become an important feature in the charity world remains unclear”.

Another area of technology charities are urged to monitor in 2022 is government’s changing approach to social media.

While platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become “a crucial tool for communities and civic engagement”, the NCVO points out that increasingly governments are considering regulating platforms and tackling anonymity.

“This has significant implications for campaigners, whistle-blowers, and the public who use anonymous accounts to protect their personal and employment identities, especially those living in regimes where communications are monitored or restricted,” the NCVO warns.

Financial pressures

Elsewhere, the NCVO’s report highlights how demand for charity services is set to continue growing amid increasing pressure on charity finances.

It warns that household debt and inequality between and within communities will rise and create more need for homelessness, debt, and employment support that many charities offer.

This week more than 20 charities linked up for a campaign around fuel poverty, urging the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to provide additional help to low-income families.

Meanwhile charity income will continue to evolve in 2022, with a “smaller pool of wealthier donors giving larger average amounts to charities”.

It adds that the post pandemic squeeze on household incomes leaves a “risk that people who would previously have donated may no longer be able to and may therefore feel less connected to charities in their communities”.

The Road Ahead report’ also details how culture war threats in UK society are set to continue into 2022. The NCVO is urging charities to be “braver” in tackling such threats and attempts to divide communities.

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