Charities struggling to access funding for effective digital services, report warns

Charities are struggling to secure funding to improve long term digital support services for beneficiaries and are instead relying on quick-fix, poorly tested online options, a report has warned.

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a raft of charities pivot support services online, though video conferencing and other technology, as social distancing restrictions make face to face support difficult.

But many charities are struggling to access funding to develop long term ‘digital-first’ support services, which are created with online support in mind from scratch, warns the report.

Instead, many charities are swiftly moving existing face-to-face support to a digital format without robust checks.

“This is understandable but raises questions about how effective” these services will be, said New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), which has released the report.

Issues arising from such quick-fix digital services are fewer technical testing and checks, found the report which looks at how charities supporting the mental health needs of young people are pivoting support online.

“We are seeing less service user testing, adjustments, and feasibility checks before an app is launched to check its effectiveness,” said NPC.

“This has arguably been necessary because of the pace at which charities needed to respond, but it remains important that service users and mental health practitioners continue to be involved to ensure that digital approaches are accessible, clinically suitable, safe and effective.

“We are seeing more funders recognise the value and importance of funding digital work.”

However, it warns that “although funder engagement with digital continues to lag behind need. Charities continue to struggle to secure funding for digital services, particularly in the long-term”.

NPC is also concerned that a focus on digital by funders “swings too far and that other services start to be seen as too expensive, low in reach or unnecessarily intensive.”

It calls for the charity sector to “continue advocating for approaches such as blended care” that includes a range of support, including one-to-one counselling.

To improve digital services and ensure a blend of support is being offered funders are being urged by NPC to consider offering unrestricted funding, focusing on backend support and opportunities for blended care options.

Ensuring users lead the design of support as well as encouraging sharing and collaboration among charities is also recommended for funders.

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