NCVO urges charities to bridge the ‘tech divide’

Charities are missing out on technology that can help service users and improve efficiency, says the annual charity sector preview from the NCVO.

Joe Lepper | 14th Jan 19
Image of a robot representing AI

Charities are running the risk of being left behind by the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ of new technology, an NCVO report is warning.

The sector organisation’s The Road Ahead analysis of 2019 says that the coming year will see further technological advances in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI).

But few charities are taking advantage of such innovation and will find it increasingly difficult to catch up unless they act now.

Technology too many charities are missing out on include drones, AI, robotics and online data tools, which can all help with development and humanitarian work

“So far – aside from a few of the larger household-name charities that have started adopting more advanced technologies – our sector has played a limited role in this revolution, whether as a user of technologies, a shaper or an influencer,” states the report.

“This detachment could become increasingly problematic. As the pace of change in technology is accelerating, the technological divide risks becoming more difficult to bridge.

“Especially as the new technologies emerging in the world today are unprecedented in their scale, complexity and level of connectivity.”

Opportunity meets risk

There are also risks around tech advancements that charities need to be better prepared for, such as unethical use of AI, fake news, online bullying and digital surveillance.

Advice given in the report, which is available to NCVO members, is to see last year’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as an opportunity to develop data skills and improve communication with donors.

Small charities in particularly are also being urged to take advantage of increasingly cost effective tech innovations, such as making sure they can receive cashless payments.

“AI is becoming more affordable and simpler to pick up, and cloud services can provide alternatives to traditional software purchasing,” adds the report.

“Some tools and processes could even be easier for small organisations to adopt, as they may not have the same structural baggage as bigger or long-established organisations.”

In addition, charities need to be aware of the continuing rise in smart phone use and develop a “mobile first” strategy when designing web content.

Falling trust in social media

Charities are also being urged to ensure they think carefully about how they use social media due to falling public trust in this form of communication following scandals such as the Cambridge Analytica data breach.

According to last year’s Edelman Trust Barometer the number of people in the UK who trust social media fell from 26% to 24% and globally 40% of people deleted at least one social media account.

“Moving forward, voluntary organisations will need to think about how they interact with their donors, volunteers and beneficiaries, and where they might need to review their communication channels,” states the report.

“When using social media, they will need to ensure that they create content people can trust and consider who they might not reach on those platforms.”