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How charities can deal with the shifting tech landscape

21 May 2021

The pandemic is the biggest change that many of us will have seen in our lifetime. And we will be feeling the aftershocks for years to come, as disruption spreads across all sectors. This includes big tech companies and everyone who uses their products and services – including charities.

In the UK, the government will be introducing the Online Harms Bill, which will create a duty of care for Facebook, Google and other tech companies for content shared on their platforms. The newly established Digital Markets Unit will also be scrutinising mergers and acquisitions. A group of 40 charities across the UK have joined together in the Charities Against Hate campaign, lobbying for change on social media platforms and if you work at the coalface of digital communications, you may have been kept awake at night by changes to iOS14. Apple has recently added a new feature to its operating system offering consumers greater control of third-party data collection. If you have an iPhone you may have noticed a pop up asking you to opt into or out of data collection for each app you use. I’m all for everyone having more control of their data, but I feel torn when I think about the impact on the sector. Many charities use Facebook Ads to recruit supporters, grow fundraising, and tell people about their services so this move could have worrying consequences.

Currently work is being done to build a picture of the tech issues which are top of mind for charities as part of this year’s Charity Digital Skills Report. If you can share what you’ve learned during the pandemic and what your plans are for how you will be using digital as your organisation opens its doors again do get involved, as it will enable the mapping of trends to help the sector benchmark its progress. Ahead of this here are some initial tips for how to keep up with the big tech disruption:

  1. How can charities keep up with all the tech changes happening and understand how they affect us?

    The best way you can do this is to make sure you’re plugged into the right networks to source tech news. The Tech for Good Live podcast digests tech news and what it means for the sector. I’m also signed up to the Wired and Tech Crunch newsletters. On Twitter, I learn a lot about new tech developments by following Thirdsectorlab, Cassie Robinson, Paul de Gregorio, and Dama Sathianathan.

    However, learning about these stories needs to be a team sport. In your next team get-together you could ask everyone to bring along a tech news story and discuss what the implications are for your charity. You could try asking yourselves ‘What does this mean for our communications and fundraising?’ ‘What are the risks and how can we mitigate these?’ ‘What are the different scenarios for how these changes could play out and how can we deal with them?’ Taking these actions will put your charity in a good position for when these changes occur.
  2. With charities so stretched at the moment, what tips do you have around knowing how to spot which changes might impact our ability to engage audiences online?

    Big tech companies make changes to their platforms all the time. But how the people who use them react is another thing entirely. There are two things you can do here which won’t take much time or money. First, we are seeing lots of useful reports emerging about how people’s behaviour is changing, such as the Blue State Digital’s report into what donors will want from charities in a post-pandemic world. Keep an eye on the sector press and the Twitter accounts I mentioned earlier, and use the insights to start planning and testing some new approaches in your team. All of these reports will include hypotheses which you can then test as part of your own user research – for example, whether your charity’s young donors really are intending to increase their donations.

    Secondly, you’ll need to do research as often as you can. Talking to just five people in your target audience will yield some useful insights about how they are using digital channels, and how this has changed during the pandemic. This can be done in-house quickly and easily. Catalyst have a great guide to how to do user interviews.

    Once you’ve got the insights from your interviews, get together with your team to review the findings and identify actions. Government Digital Service have a handy guide to how to do this.

    As society reopens, you’re probably under a lot of pressure to deliver right now and taking the time to talk to users may seem like a luxury that you can’t afford. If you get pushback from senior managers about this tell them that it will be an invaluable way to gather the data and insights needed to evidence key decisions about where your charity goes next with digital.

What next?

We’ve seen massive amounts of change in how donors and supporters use digital this year- and there will be more to come. The charities who take the time to horizon scan and plan for how they adapt to these changes will be those who are best placed to take advantage of them.

The Charity Digital Skill Report survey is open until midnight on 31 May. Share your thoughts on how your charity is using digital here. We will share the results in the charity press in July.

Find out about digital marketing tracking – tools and techniques in our recent Heads of Digital event coming on-demand soon.

Image: Du Wei on Unsplash

Zoe Amar

founder and director, Zoe Amar Digital

Zoe Amar is founder and director of Zoe Amar Digital, a charity marketing and digital communications consultancy who've worked with Action Aid, CAF, Crimestoppers and many other great charities. She also blogs for The Guardian. Zoe shares charity marketing resources over at www.zoeamar.com and @zoeamar