Back to work: How to help your charity adapt to a virtual world

Covid-19 has changed our world dramatically. The shift from face to face to online, almost overnight, has meant that we have been forced to immerse ourselves in new ways of life.

Getting the balance right

For the charity sector, this has meant engaging with, and adapting to, the power of digital in every area of our working lives. And whilst these notions are not new concepts, issues such as remote working, carbon footprint and paper waste reduction have been turbo-charged into tangible targets as a result of the crisis.

We can now only assume that this is how things will be, and most likely the preferred way of working for the many. Not-for-profit, in line with the commercial sector, is likely to welcome this modern set-up, which provides efficiency and pace. However, what might be different for us is that this sector is one traditionally driven by face to face relationships, connections and feelings. Maintaining a balance is key, genuine human connection is crucial to what we do, and we need to be mindful about where it’s appropriate to replace this with screens.

Services delivered via technology

Migrating certain charity services to digital may pose quite a challenge, but it’s not impossible and could prove to be a revolutionary move for many in the sector.

For Autism Wessex specifically, elements of our services such as counselling, speech therapies and some element of education have typically been face-to-face. Covid-19 has changed all that. We’ve discovered a real demand for these services on a remote-access basis, and we have realised that we should look at making serious investments in this direction. This may drive developments in home-support through technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR), providing real potential for some of our support to be delivered in different ways.

Investment doesn’t just stop at equipment though. It’s crucial that charities spend money and time in IT training to enable the digital shift to be as seamless as possible, ensuring that standards of service do not drop.

The social side

We can’t ignore the downsides of remote working; it can be a highly impersonal medium. Gone are the office shenanigans which create connection and a sense of appreciation, replaced with intense, long periods of screen time and sometimes feelings of isolation. Go too far down that route, and mental health risks can ensue.

But there are ways to reduce this potential level of risk. We use a well-known informal chat platform whose use has increased greatly since remote working commenced: we post pictures, recognise great work, celebrate birthdays, generally supporting each other informally, recreating some of the face to face activity that we might have lost.

Remote working will require all sectors to really look at how to make this sustainable and healthy for all; from mental health first aiders, to counselling support, regular check- ins from leaders and different and fresh investments into developing company culture and expertise.

Fundraising

Developing strong relationships with present and potential funders is always key to success here, and virtual success will stem from adopting new ways of communicating. Quick and accessible platforms such as TikTok have shown to appeal to all generations, where people have found new and different ways to tell stories and share. These types of “in the moment” platforms are becoming key tools in reaching existing and new donors, as well as reaching out to potential funders.

Through all of this, the heart-warming story continues to prevail. Whether it’s on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, genuine human stories will remain key to successful fundraising.

Take Captain Tom Moore or Harmonie-Rose Allen – both raised millions online during lockdown because of their inspirational tales and determination to support a cause they believe in by any means possible.

The reach was digital, but the critical factor was the human connection they achieved with so many. It’s difficult to predict whether not- for-profits will look to implement an all-encompassing online way of working after COVID-19. That of course depends on the needs and wants of both employees and service users. However, the good news is that this brave new world can deliver new opportunities, from larger fundraising audiences, greater efficiencies, to a greener world and a happier, healthier workforce.

Siun Cranny is the CEO of Autism Wessex.

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