Digital tools are the key to building your charity’s resilience

Vinay Nair, CEO of Lightful, explains why sustainability and ‘resilience through digital’ go hand-in-hand for charitable organisations.

Guest Writer | 17th Sep 18
Image shows a plant growing in dry ground. Vinay Nair, Lightful, argues that digital tools are key to charities staying resilient long-term.

Vinay Nair is CEO and Co-Founder of Lightful, a technology company for social good. Lightful’s social media management platform helps good causes raise more awareness, support and funds for their work. Vinay has worked in a variety of leadership roles in the charity and social impact investment sector, with Acumen Fund, the Clinton Foundation and Social & Sustainable Capital (SASC). He has started two social enterprises, one in healthcare in the UK and the other making jam with HIV positive women in Mozambique.


According to the latest charity register statistics from the Charity Commission, 73.5% of charities have an annual income of less than £100,000. And more than half of those have an annual income of under £10,000. For these charities in particular, building sustainability and resilience is crucial.

However, when it comes to talking about ‘resilience’ and ‘digital’, the conversation is often about being ‘more digitally resilient’ – in other words, it’s about understanding what tools are out there, which tools to use and how to get staff or volunteers to use them effectively.

Jane Ide, CEO of NAVCA, which is the national umbrella body for local infrastructure organisations, wrote a really well-received blog post after the charity was shortlisted in the Charity Governance Awards in the Embracing Digital category (disclosure: I was a judge at the awards). The article summed up how they had not only embraced digital, but how it had made them more resilient as a charity. Jane makes a very important point about how people are just as important as the tools:

“And what’s the one thing that matters above all else? A willing attitude and a relevant tool. No matter how good a piece of software looks, if the people that have to use it aren’t happy or engaged with it, you won’t get the benefits. The things we’ve tried that either haven’t worked or are still ‘on probation’ are tools that the team just don’t find any value in – and therefore don’t use.”

 

How digital can strengthen your charity’s long-term resilience

The benefits of embracing digital are wide-ranging, including being able to work remotely (as staff travel often), being able to recruit more widely because staff can work from home, working more productively and lastly saving both time and money.

Whilst charities can become more digitally resilient through making use of tools to improve productivity, collaboration and remote working, there is also a different take when we talk about ‘resilience’ and ‘digital’ for good causes – this is the opportunity for good causes to ‘become more resilient through digital’.

What do I mean by this? I mean that they can build financial resilience and sustainability by using digital tools to both raise more funds and strengthen relationships with supporters, beneficiaries and stakeholders. For me, sustainability and ‘resilience through digital’ go hand-in-hand.

Look at social media, as an example, where we focus a lot of our time. Social media offers countless opportunities to better understand your supporters; whether that’s through social listening or by having direct conversations with them. Social media also allows you to tell stories which highlight the impact that your cause is making – whether that’s about supporting people at the end of their life or making sure that no child goes hungry.

 

Data is a powerful engine

Some of the best uses of social media by social organisations are when they bring their ‘offline’ and ‘online’ supporters together, to treat them as one group who wish to engage and support them. By understanding your audience, you can offer them more personalised relationships at scale.

Add to this the power of data. By making sure that you’ve set goals and have the right measurements in place, you get a wealth of data at your disposal. As always, it’s about asking the ‘so what’ questions – so what does the data actually mean, is it relevant and can I make better decisions from it? Data will help you understand not only elements such as the demographics of your supporters, but what motivates people to give to your cause.

And so, this is the real power of digital – combining a better use of digital tools with an understanding how these tools can help you and your organisation build your resilience.