We have seen massive changes in the way businesses operate during 2020 across all sectors, with remote working having perhaps the biggest impact on our lifestyles. Without the interaction with other human beings and restrictions on numbers both at home and outdoors, businesses of all shapes and sizes have had to re-think their strategies and look for ways to survive.
In this article, we look at how the third sector has had to adapt and how digital will shape the future for charities in particular. We look at what IT support services can provide to help in changing the business model going forward and why charities need to embrace this if they are to survive.
Charity in the community
Community spirit has never been higher than when the country went into lockdown for the first time in 2020. Ordinary people, especially children embraced it – many offering up their favourite toys to those less fortunate than them. It was more than simply standing on the doorstep applauding the NHS and other key workers, it was a genuine desire to seek out those in need and to provide help and support whenever they could.
Many charities recognised the changes in communities and found ways of tapping into them when it was difficult to meet face to face. One way to do this was to call out for volunteers. With so many people laid off or furloughed, thousands flocked to fill their time whilst looking for permanent work. Whether it was to help in food banks or cold calling potential donors, there was no shortage of help.
However, this was never going to be sustainable, and with street collections gone and charity shops closed for long periods because they are regarded as non-essential, these major sources of income have to be replaced.
With an estimated £10 billion funding deficit in 2020, the new business model must incorporate ways of raising money that does not rely on old methods.
Specialist IT support for charities
A growing number of small businesses specialise in IT support for charities and other third sector organisations. Because of the way these are funded and managed, IT support services have to be tuned in to their method of working. What works for an SME driven by profit will not necessarily work for a charity answering to trustees.
Whether you need someone to advise on the best solution for backing up data or to introduce cloud computing to your organisation, unless you have the expertise in-house it is better to call in a specialist.
Charities are not immune to the dangers that face all businesses. Cyber-crime, loss of data and the inability to function in the event of some kind of disaster is an ever-present risk, and a managed service provider will help develop a strategy and implement the necessary changes.
How are charities embracing technology?
The third sector generally has reacted well to the need to change and to embrace technology in order to survive. Charities are looking to diversify and merge with other charities to broaden their scope and other larger charities such as the British Red Cross are helping smaller ones by providing help and advice.
Utilising home working as a way of reducing overheads is good but this brings with it further issues. People still need to relate to others and this can be achieved through virtual meeting rooms such as Zoom and Facebook Messenger.
Closed Facebook groups also allow others to join in, adding to the transparency. Staff, volunteers, donors and beneficiaries can all be part of the conversation and have their say on what needs to be done.
Generating income from digital events is a way of engaging with long-standing supporters and encouraging others to join the fun. Live-streaming via Facebook and Instagram is an excellent way for charities to develop their support and to raise funds for specific causes, whether this is through a supporter’s fundraising page or a corporate event.
Emerging charities will already have this as a part of their business plan, it is the older, established charities that face the biggest challenge.
Although the last 12 months have brought about great changes in the way the third sector operates, there is still a lot to be done if charities are to remain operational in the future.
Over the next 12 months, many organisations will disappear altogether, some will merge to create multi-beneficiary charities and those smaller ones that do survive will be the ones who embraced digital technology and used it to their advantage.
New business structures must be lean, agile and willing to adapt to fresh challenges as and when they arise. Use of external support for IT services and even some aspects of management will be part of this, leaving those responsible for the core business to do their job.