Hail, Seizer; 2 reasons why charities should start embracing innovation & technology now

Hail, Seizer; 2 reasons why charities should start embracing innovation & technology now

Charities often learn some great lessons from private industry, but have they missed a trick by leaving out technology? Anna Chistyakova thinks so and is challenging charities to draw her in.

I have recently found myself thinking that I have become more data sensitive. I pay attention to how many Twitter followers or LinkedIn connections I have and I track my health stats with new apps and devices to become a better runner. I compare different people’s opinions on sites like TripAdvisor and Quora to find the answer I’m looking for.

The more pleasant the user experience I have, the more closely I associate myself with the company, and the more I like the brand. So why can’t I feel the same for charities?

Non-profits remain resistant to technology. Despite charities successfully adapting many great practices from business, not many jumped for innovation and technology. There are a few notable exceptions:

  • Macmillan Cancer Support extensively uses NHS data on cancer patients to improve patient care programmes.
  • Catch 22 have developed a mobile app that is designed to improve the skills of young people looking for a job.
  • The Movember Foundation build their fundraising activities on technology and data

Off the top of my head, I could only count a few. Moreover, these are strong, well-established charities that have public recognition and the support of donors and trustees, not to mention that they already have the benefit of being in partnership with business or the scientific community.

With that in mind, why is it difficult for charities to catch up or at least dream of having the budget for software development staff, interactive websites, mobile apps and the like?

Well, do they even need it? Maybe not. The spending often seems unreasonable, the benefits are intangible and the results are hidden beyond the horizon. You could argue that charities should concentrate on their sustainability and their cause instead of looking for a passionate graduate engineer.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Regardless of the size, sector and maturity, I believe charities can and should be experimenting with technology. There are at least two good reasons why.

1. It helps you to find your audience.

Today, all charities operate in a completely different landscape compared with a decade ago. A small charity that cares about local libraries now competes for public attention with an international charity working on malnutrition. With easy access to information, a short attention span and a “my phone is my wallet” philosophy all now commonplace among the public, charities need to work harder than ever to reach the right audience and find people who believe what they believe. Without this moral support there is no financial support.

Technology and data determine the survival and prosperity of a charity. These are your tools to understand what excites the people you talk to and better meet their expectations by making your message personalized and your idea memorable. Create something they can show to their friends and talk about at home. Experiment!

Even if you consider yourself allergic to technology, it is easy to start your search with plenty of free and intuitive tools. Google Analytics will tell you which pages people like on your website. Hootsuite is a fantastic time-saver for media marketing. Rapportive will help you find contact details for the most relevant people to you. Google alerts will tell you when someone mentions your name on the Web.

Still feeling uncomfortable? Find a graduate developer passionate about non-profits. These people love technology, are eager to experiment and want responsibility. Excite them with what you do and in return they will show you that a charity can be innovative, modern and fun.

2. It turns your audience into your loyal customers.

Treat your supporters as customers. It is not enough to say that you will spend 90% of your income on the cause. Prove it. Walk with your donors through every step. When people give, they want to know exactly where their money is going.

If you need one example, study charity: water, an organisation that brings safe, clean water to developing countries. Their donors regularly receive… no, not the flyers and information about new campaigns to donate to. They receive pictures of real people who they help, updates on the projects they donated to and GPS locations of places where they build the water pumps.

Make the connection between donations and your campaigns explicit, link donation size to a particular resource and connect your fundraisers to specific projects. It turns their £10 into an actual thing they can see, just as if they had purchased it from you. 

charity: water do another important thing; they recognise their supporters. Names and photos of donors are published on their website and personal fundraising stories are shared with site visitors. This makes them feel good by being part of the brand. That is when supporters start telling their friends about this cool organisation, just like I tell my friends about that new app that I use, suggesting they should start using it as well.

I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to feel this way about charities. Now it’s up to you to innovate and draw us in.

Anna Chistyakova

What are your experiences of digital? Is your charity doing well at it, or do you wish it would do more? Leave us a comment below.

Submitted by colin falconer (not verified) on 13 Jul 2015


It's an interesting topic, but the two reasons you choose are ultimately more geared around funding than creating solutions. And in that is the real issue - there are more charity innovation jobs in fundraising than solution making. Tech matters most when, as in the example app, it has a direct benefit on eradicating the issues charity is seeking to address. That's the type of innovation both the charity and tech sector ought to be doing more of.

Submitted by L Horton (not verified) on 16 Oct 2015


A good article in many ways but I do take issue with the suggestion that somehow digital is solved by 'a passionate graduate engineer'. There's too much feeling in the sector that digital is solved by 'young people', 'someone who uses social media', 'someone who knows how to code'. It's vital that charities drive the digital agenda by sound business planning and marketing (all 7 elements of the marketing mix, not just promotion). The digital revolution permeates all parts of an organisation and how it interacts with clients/beneficiaries, donors, funders, volunteers, staff and wider influencers. The last thing you want is to have 'solutions' imposed by someone with a passion for a particular technology or coding language who doesn't understand the charity's mission, objectives, strategy, target audiences, financial objectives, charity law ... trustees you can't just delegate this to some graduate with a computer science degree: it's your job to lead on, understand and drive this agenda and there should be no hiding places if you don't!

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