Charities left behind in tech race, says report

Government and funders should invest in sector-wide digital transformation and aim for deep-rooted changes in how charities work, argues a new paper from think tank NPC.

The public already expect digital technology to help them find information, access services, and share their experiences.

New analysis from NPC warns that the charities face the same expectations, and that those that fail to meet them will be left behind.


Tech for social needs

NPC’s paper ‘Tech for common good’, argues that the Office for Civil Society should play a lead role in co-ordinating digital transformation projects so that charities can work collectively on identifying social need and developing technology to meet it.

The paper also cautions individual charities against adopting ‘tech for tech’s sake’, which is unlikely to reach the scale the public demand.


Principles for digital transformation in the charity sector:

  • Any technical innovations must start with working out what helps beneficiaries. It is about service transformation facilitated by technology, and never tech for tech’s sake
  • There needs to be a clear business case. Charity trustees will want to see how innovations make their organisations more efficient and effective, while tech partners will need to know how their involvement helps beneficiaries
  • It isn’t always about building something new. Much of the tech that’s needed is already out there, and charities should focus more on adapting technology and building on existing platforms rather than trying to build their own solutions
  • Involve the right people from the beginning. Solutions are sometimes technologically straightforward, but to make real impact it will need buy-in from beneficiaries, frontline staff, boards and chief execs, alongside funders and trustees


A ‘crucial lesson for charities’

Tris Lumley, Director of Development at NPC and one of the authors of ‘Tech for common good’, said: “The digital revolution has transformed the way we communicate and work and shop.

“There is a crucial lesson here for charities: the world has changed not because one organisation develops a glossy new app but because of the way whole sectors build infrastructure and work with the public.”
Tris asserts that charities must share more through new tech to solve social problems, from shared platforms to marketplaces for delivering services.

He adds: “This is what beneficiaries need, but the market seldom supports initiatives that make an impact across the whole charity sector. This is why we are asking government, funders and investors to make a big, forward-looking decision on investing in digital infrastructure for common good across the whole sector.

“Without the rights digital offerings for an increasingly digital user, the public will simply look elsewhere for support, and charities will find themselves obsolete”

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  • I totally agree – our charity has a digital platform that serves other charities, schools and community groups but has experienced issues from another angle. While social investment continues to grow, digital platforms can be seen as risky vs. asset based investments and yet as your article clearly states, this is the world we live in. We can’t just leave it to the commercial world to solve everything – we can do this ourselves.

    I have been advising a number of charities about how to leverage technology in the same way TheGivingMachine does to keep costs right down and maintain effectiveness. Perhaps a Digital Mentor programme would be a good idea :).