The best productivity tools for charities (Part 1 of 2): time-saving methods to find tools

A recent NetSquared London Meetup investigated the IT tools that can be used to get charity operations done cheaply and effectively

Chloe Green | 4th May 17

A recent NetSquared London Meetup investigated the IT tools that can be used to get charity operations done cheaply and effectively and how charities can tackle the process of finding the tech that helps the most when you don’t necessarily have the time to research. Charity Digital News shares some of the key points from the event.

The recent NetSquared London Meetup saw over 50 people from the charity sector discuss how tech can be used to help boost productivity.

Matt Moorut from Charity Digital kicked things off by noting, from his own experience and from working with others, that it’s often difficult for charities to get organisational support for new tools, especially if they aren’t 100% free or if they require people in the team to learn new ways of working.

Discussion moved on to say that, in order to get the ball rolling, charities need to not only find the right tools for their cause (look out for suggestions in part 2 of our review next week), but also to get buy-in from the very top of their organisation.


Digital champions

It was also pointed out that if charities haven’t got a trustee or senior managers who are championing digital, the best tools in the world won’t make their way into the organisation, which is a missed opportunity.

Matt suggested that if you haven’t got a digital champion on your board of trustees then you need to get one, because their absence can be a serious blocker to your digital progress.

The Charity Digital Toolkit is a great set of resources to help get you started on your digital journey and can help support existing digital advocates within a non-profit to persuade others. If you need to convince senior managers of the value of digital, take a look at their section on Digital Leadership. You can also send those managers on CAST’s Digital Fellowship programme for charity leaders, which is recruiting now!


Choosing the right tools

Assuming organisational barriers have been overcome, discussion moved on to ask how you then choose the right tools?

Before you start, you need to establish exactly what you’re trying to achieve with that tool. This is a constant evaluation that all charities should be doing anyway whenever they want to try something new and unproven. Even if you hear about a great tool that’s worked for another organisation, that tool might not be great for you!

So start by thinking about:

  1. What’s your mission?
  2. What’s your strategy?
  3. What is essential?
  4. What are your main pain points?
  5. What solutions exist?

If you feel like you need more support with this process, take a look at Alidade, a super interactive guide created by The Engine Room to help non-profits choose the right tool for the job.


Finding the solution

So you think you know what kind of solution you need. Now how do you find and evaluate the different offers available?

The Meetup heard from Dama Sathianathan and Laurie Ainley, the driving forces behind Charity Catalogue, a curated hub of tools that either have a charity discount or are available for free for nonprofits. Dama revealed how several years ago she’d started working in a tiny charity that had no budget for comms, at a time when there were few tools available to help, especially free ones. But now there are so many, the challenge has become how to compare all the options, and although there are some great startup-focused resources for this, there isn’t anything specifically geared towards the social sector.

Charity Catalogue grew out of Dama and Laurie’s observation that on all charity forums they were members of, like Charity Comms, Digital Charities and ECF, one of the most common questions was ‘Which tool do you use for X?’ What started with a spreadsheet has grown into a collection of 27 categories, of which seven are live right now.

Aside from sector-specific tool banks like Charity Catalogue, you can also take a look at platforms for small businesses like G2 Crowd, Community How To and Capterra (which has charity-specific verticals).

Charity Digital’s blog also has recommendations around tools in specific categories. The Trust uses ten criteria against which to measure new digital tools, which might be a handy guide for your own organisation:

  1. Great user experience
  2. Short learning curve
  3. Cloud based
  4. Companion mobile app
  5. Short contract
  6. Open API linking to other platforms
  7. Charity discounts
  8. Regular updates
  9. Zero setup/minimal configuration.

Don’t miss: In part two we reveal the favourite productivity tools of those at the Meetup.