The charity sector has a duty to embrace the efficiencies technology can bring

Any organisation that isn’t using digital technology to its fullest, from cloud accounting to ecommerce, is missing a trick – and that includes charities.

Stakeholders expect charities to spend as much as possible on the front line, supporting the mission, and as little as is feasible on organisational administration.

It is not only trustees who apply pressure to charity leaders on this point. Journalists also know they can always rely on a certain amount of outrage being generated by stories about the percentage of donations spent on, for example, fundraiser salaries, or office rental.

One easy way many charities could save money and operate more efficiently is by looking hard at which functions could be digitised or automated.

And why not start with your finance function?

Cloud accounting

Adherents of online accounting software can sometimes sound as if they have been brainwashed, but there is a reason it inspires such enthusiasm and devotion: it really has been a game-changer.

The debate about paper vs. electronic concluded 20 years ago. Now it’s about clunky desktop systems tied to a single PC with a single (expensive) license vs. agile cloud packages that can be accessed anytime, anywhere, from any device with an internet connection.

This year, that’s been extra useful with teams scattered geographically, due to COVID-19 pandemic, but still able to collaborate on and access the same set of numbers.

From a leadership point of view, it provides a ‘single point of truth’ and removes opportunities for human error, allowing systems to speak directly to each other without data entry or cut and paste.

Depending on the size of your charitable organisation, you might also find that inbuilt bookkeeping and payroll functions are sufficient to reduce staff or outsourcing costs.

Customer relationship systems (CRMs)

Whether it is managing donors, stakeholders or even service users, a digital customer relations management (CRM) interface is vital.

Again, it is not about paper vs. digital – is anyone still using a Rolodex or Filofax for this kind of thing anymore? – but about doing it the right way.

Too often, charities end up with records contained in fragile spreadsheets and word processor documents. That is not only a problem in terms of knowledge transfer but also a data protection nightmare.

A decent CRM will make GDPR compliance easy; provides a single, reliable record of the relationship with each key individual; and makes it easy to automate relationship management processes.

Marketing and sales

Most charities need to market themselves and many have a retail component.

For both reasons, investing in an up-to-date website is not a nice-to-have – it is essential.

A good website helps achieve efficiencies by reducing the amount of time spent dealing with queries and can boost revenue by helping your organisation get found by potential donors and volunteers.

It is also the starting point for building an ecommerce business, whether it is selling secondhand books like Oxfam or branded clothing like the RNLI.

This year has made us all think differently about retail spaces, the value of bricks-and-mortar and the way we shop. If, as Government statistics suggest, consumers are moving online in ever greater numbers, why not meet them there?

A note of caution

Of course, charities must avoid going digital for the sake of it. In the past, they have been sold solutions that don’t solve anything or, indeed, that never get finished.

We would always advise you to investigate off-the-peg software before commissioning bespoke packages. These days, most applications are designed to be tweaked and customised around the needs of the buyer.