Charity Digital News recently spoke with Emma Thomas, CEO of YouthNet, the UK’s leading online charity. We discussed the impact of technological advances in the charitable sector and how YouthNet uses digital services to communicate with its demographic.
How would you explain the service you provide?
YouthNet is the UK’s leading online charity, providing advice, information and support to young people aged 16 to 25. We are a one stop shop for every issue. We provide emotional support to young people through online advice and guidance provided via our online, lifeline TheSite.
What is your long term aim of the charity?
To equip young people with the skills they need to lead fulfilling lives by harnessing digital technology for good and putting young people at the heart of our innovation.
What have you learnt as the first exclusively online charity?
By providing a safe haven online, we’re able to provide young people with a safe space where they can be their authentic selves and cut through the overwhelming content of the internet to get information they can trust. Being online enables us to do this in a huge volume – we reach 1 million young people in the UK alone each year. Offline services are vital and we can work together in a complementary way. We’ve learned that to enhance our services we need to emulate successful online business – we need to invest more in Research & Design to keep pace with advances in technology and meet the expectations of young people who are very sophisticated digital consumers.
How do you use technology to engage young people?
YouthNet harnesses technology to improve the quality of life for 16 – 25 year olds in the UK via our digital platform, TheSite. TheSite provides information in the form of more than 2,000 articles, films and blogs, platforms to connect young people to peers and experts for immediate help through an online community, live chats and expert advisory service, and a bridge to find and best manage offline support if and when it’s needed via our Stepfinder and Local Advice Finder services.
How much of a role does technology play in your mission to help young people?
A vital one! YouthNet harnesses digital technology to equip young people with the skills they need to lead fulfilling lives. 96% of young people in the UK are online and 87% connect to the internet via their smart phones. We use digital technology to reach young people, because that IS where they are – online is the front line for the digital generation.
Investing in technology is essential in harnessing the next generation of donors. What do you think the future holds for fundraising?
I think the answer lies in the question. When it comes to digital innovation in charitable services, we’re asking donors to invest in new products that will yield social as opposed to commercial value. The future with donors is likely for them to come on a journey with us and support an Innovation Fund which will yield significant result, but that which can’t be predicted at the departure gate.
Can you name a specific time when technology played a key role in your mission?
Every single day, since we were founded 17 years ago!
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