whatCharity.com is working with an empathy-led digital consultancy agency DOT PROJECT to award one UK charity a package of support which helps the charity to get to the next level in digital presence. We interviewed Catherine Ainsworth, the co-Founder of DOT PROJECT to learn more about digitalisation and what it means for charities.
Q1: It has been said that the UK charity sector is currently at least five years behind in digital development. Do you agree with this statement?
‘Digital development’ is a broad term and I don’t think it’s easy to define what that actually means. I think for us the core question is, are organisations truly taking advantage of the potential technology tools and digital platforms provide them with?
Some charities are really embracing this and are progressive, but in the main there is a lack of funding to support small to medium-size charities to strengthen skills across the organisation. These organisations are providing vital services to a community and as the demand for their services is increasing, so does the need for digitisation but they simply do not have the time or money to invest in their own needs.
A key driver of digital change is strong leadership, engaged and skilled trustees and a positive culture. Where poor leadership or weak governance exists we see that charities struggle to invest responsibly in technology. It becomes difficult to mitigate risks, for example data management is not done correctly putting vulnerable individuals, and their sensitive and personal data, at risk.
Q2: What does being digital mean from your point of view? (I am seeking answers involving software, social media, website, apps, other tools…)
Being digital is about maximising the opportunities technology can provide when it works with the people and teams across the organisation. Yes absolutely it is about infrastructure, programming, integration, and a wide range of tools and apps. But it is also fundamentally about people – how people can improve the flow of information, the accuracy of data, their interactions with each other. We drive a people-centred approach, taking the time to understand the people and the culture of an organisation.
Some charities we work with already feel “left behind” and they fear too “technical” conversation. Our work is to make technology approachable and find those opportunities where technology could have a positive impact.
Q3: Is being digital important for all charities? And what can be achieved by being digital enough? (Looking here to have insight on tech being an enabler)
Again I think we need to look at the language we’re using. It is not about ‘being digital’ – this is just the very nature of the world we now live in. All sectors and roles are influenced by technology, indeed our personal lives are permeated by the way we use and engage with technology.
Charities have a crucial role in identifying the digital skills needs of their communities. Not leaving people behind is something we are particularly passionate about – marginalised groups, youth, elderly that don’t or can’t have the same access as the majority of the population. Internally, charities must think digital in supporting these groups through the protection of their personal information, reducing the risk of a cyber attack and strengthening internal processes to create more time for teams to focus on direct beneficiary activities.
Q4: Is being digital expensive? How can a small organisation with a limited budget become more digital?
Of course it can be, but it doesn’t have to be. We like to differentiate between “tech for good”, creating new tech, or ways of using tech to directly implement within your activities, and “responsible tech” which is about how best to enable your organisation as a whole. This could be through website content management (CMS), customer relationship management (CRM), finance, project management systems and a whole approach to strong data management and information security.
If you have a small budget, actually if you are thinking about making any type of investment in digital. the first question to ask yourself is ‘What do I need?’. Your budget provides a parameter for the technology solutions you can consider, and there are now lots of free or lower cost options available. However don’t invest in tech for tech’s sake, instead understand what you are trying to achieve and then decide what you need to invest in. Sometimes the solution is not a digital solution, you might need to invest in training or review a certain process. So keep your mind open to the options available.
Q5: Tell us about what you do and what kind of clients you have?
Over the past two years we have worked with social enterprises who support people with disabilities, vulnerable and marginalised groups and supported The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to increase the visibility of initiatives which support diversity in technology and the creative industries.
DOT PROJECT is working towards a future where people flourish through responsible technology. We talk of ourselves working at the intersection between civil society and technology, passionately increasing confidence and capacity of people who are working to solve complex social issues.
Q6: What is a case study you wish to present as an example of your work and your impact?
Over the past two years we have worked with organisations who are committed to improving the lives of individuals, this inspires us. We worked with OpenUp Music, who have created the world’s first inclusive orchestra, to embed new technology to support their growth. Since launching in 2007 OpenUp Music have been creating inclusive youth orchestras, they have developed an instrument, the Clarion, to enable young people with disabilities to play music. Unique in their field OpenUp Music have demonstrated impact in providing creative opportunities to young people. Now they are setting up the National Open Youth Orchestra to provide a pathway for young musicians to fulfil their potential, this is a world first. We have worked with OpenUp Music to strengthen their internal systems and create strong digital governance to enable the organisation to scale effectively.
DOT PROJECT believes in the transformative impact of technology on humanity. The company exists to support individuals, organisations and communities to realise the potential of enabling technology in increasing their social impact.
DOT PROJECT is a women-led social enterprise which enables civil society and social enterprises to thrive through responsible technology. The focus is on increasing productivity within organisations and creating an inclusive environment for staff by building digital skills and confidence.