5 Ways Charities Are Using Technology

What can technology give to charity?

According to the Blackbaud 2016 Charitable Giving Report, only 7.2 per cent of individual donations are made online in the UK. Due to the expansion of mass internet access, this statistic is surprising. It seems that charities are yet to take full advantage of the new digital channels and innovative technologies that could maximise their reach and success. However, this is beginning to change. Technology is being used by a range of charitable organisations to increase donations, improve campaigns, and to build a stronger relationship with supporters. But how, and by who?

1. Alternative payment options

Finding new ways to pay has helped charities to improve their donation rates. By adopting digital fundraising, the House of Lords Select Committee’s ‘Stronger charities for a stronger society’ report suggests that charities have increased their overall donations by as much as 600 per cent. Seamless payment options like PayPal and Apple Pay, for example, have been adopted by groups like Alzheimer’s Society. It’s not just about being digital – it’s also important to be different. Cancer Research UK, for example, installed 10 smart benches in London at the beginning of last year that offered wifi access and charging ports. Users were able to donate £2 using contactless payments. Blue Cross took contactless payments to an entirely new level with their ‘pat and tap’ campaign, in which guide dogs were fitted with card readers for mobile donations.

2. Mobile apps

Mobile apps provide a way for users to get closer to the charity but also for the charity to get closer to those within their wider public networks. Apps enable constant access on personal devices, creating a flow of information. As well as helping charities to understand their supporters, it also helps those users to manage their interactions with the organisation. Oxfam’s My Oxfam app, for example, allows users to monitor the amounts that they donate, look at previous donation history and view a map that shows where the money has been spent.

3. Social media

Social media sites have become a forum for sharing news, campaign information and stories to a mass audience. Oxfam uses WorkMobile‘s data capture system to record the details of new supporters and takes official photos of them when they get involved with campaigns. The photos are then sent to the supporter as a thank you for their involvement, and posted on social media – presumably with their permission. This extends Oxfam’s reach and helps to create an online community that then translates into successful real world events and marketing. While not a charity itself, Lightful was founded in 2014 to offer social media marketing and digital consulting services to charitable causes. The company received £4m in funding earlier this year, demonstrating the opportunity for technology and charity consultancies.

4. Virtual Reality

VR offers a powerful tool for engagement, showing exactly what happens in a given situation. This has obvious benefits when applied to charitable causes, building emotive narratives to drive support. The RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) was one of the first charities to publish a 360° video. In 2015, a virtual experience from the crew’s perspective was captured on the River Thames. Samaritans also used a 360° video as part of their #welisten campaign. The aim was to demonstrate the difference between listening and hearing, and show how the charity delivers their service to those in need.

5. Artificial Intelligence

One way in which charities could take advantage of AI is in adapting AI assistants and chatbots. For example, Arthritis Research UK has partnered with Microsoft to pilot a service based on Watson AI which informs users about the condition. In the same vein, AI’s growing natural language processing (NLP) capabilities could help to overcome language barriers. Artificial Intelligence may also streamline research processes by sorting through academic data. Startup Meta has developed an AI that sifts through research papers to find relevant material for scientists and other academics, which could be a huge time saver for projects conducted in both the lab and in the field.

Charities have many options when it comes to making the most of digital disruption. But in order to reap the highest rewards, they need to take a leap of faith and experiment with innovative techniques. This includes optimising mobile donations, taking advantage of social media, and experimenting with emerging digital channels. Technologies like AI and VR have given organisations a new way to interact with consumers. Through this, they can connect with people in a more meaningful way. Platforms like Lightful have emerged to help charities to build effective campaigns, even offering free services for smaller organisations. With the support of consultancies and the availability of relevant tech, the charitable sector is ready to give way to disruption.

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