Irish charities and nonprofits need to accelerate their digital transformation or risk becoming irrelevant very quickly.
It’s a truism to say that digital technologies have disrupted industries around the globe in unexpected ways. That disruption is continuing and is even accelerating.
There’s lots of talk about what Irish businesses need to do to keep up with this pace of change and how they need to transform digitally to harness new opportunities.
But there’s far less talk of what digital transformation means for Irish charities and nonprofits. That’s why events such as The Wheel’s conference Future Waves are so important.
In many ways Irish charities and nonprofits are much further behind than most businesses when it comes to digital transformation.
Risk of becoming obsolete
There’s a real risk that many of them will be left behind and become obsolete as more digitally savvy international organisations target the Irish market at scale. In the same way that Irish retailers have fallen victim to people spending money with Amazon instead of locally, Irish charities and nonprofits could suffer from international players moving in and attracting donations from donors by doing fundraising at scale powered by a digital-first approach.
Searching for the best Irish charity
A good example of this is that only one charity (Oxfam Ireland) seems to have bought Google ads for the search keywords “best Irish charity.” That’s a search that people who actively have the intent of making a donation will do. So although it’s a low volume search term, it has the potential to be a lucrative one. Because they’ve bought the ads, when you search for “best Irish charity” the first thing you see on the search engine results page is an ad for Oxfam Ireland:
More Irish charities should be following Oxfam Ireland’s example and buying Google ads to target these potential donors. Instead the actual organic (unpaid) search results are a mixed bag of unfocussed results that will soon have users hitting the back button – or deciding to donate to Oxfam Ireland because it’s the first thing they see.
Digital transformation isn’t just about digital communication
That’s just one example of how Irish charities and nonprofits are missing a trick by not taking digital transformation in its broadest sense more seriously. It’s not just about having a website or being on Facebook and Twitter anymore. Instead it’s about embracing the advantages of digital technologies in every aspect of an organisation’s work – from fundraising to project management.
Communication is the most obvious and visible place for digital transformation to take place. And it’s often the first (and last) place organisations take action on their (short) digital transformation journey. But online communication needs to be done at a much more strategic level on social media. Most organisation’s social media feeds are dominated by “broadcast” messages on an ad hoc basis around events and specific seasonal appeals.
In addition to this foundation, the two-way nature of communication on social media needs to be embraced. Even if that means actually engaging with some of the people who don’t agree with an organisation’s policies. That engagement is one of the key ways to build trust, attract donations and ultimately increase the effectiveness of an organisation’s work.
Show me the money
We’ve even got someway to go in terms of improving the online experience of people interacting with charities on their own websites. Research published on the Charities Institute Ireland blog has shown that it’s not easy to find financial information on charity websites. It’s often buried at least 4 clicks deep, and even takes experts over a minute to find on average. That’s a lifetime in web user experience terms for such a piece of critical information for donors. This is effectively a lack of transparency and will mean users will either give up or switch to other lists of the best Irish charities to donate to which will open them up to other options for donations.
Transforming fundraising through digital
It’s often not even that easy to make online donations with confidence either. And fundraising events such as charity cycles tend to be frustratingly offline only affairs even though readily available apps could transform them. But when technology is embraced for fundraising it can pay big dividends. Take for example Temple Street Foundation’s Techies4TempleStreet annual fundraising event. In that event the technology is deeply embedded and integral to it demonstrating the potential of this digital-first approach.
Data-driven nonprofit work
One of the biggest opportunities around digital transformation is often overlooked by charities and nonprofits. That’s how it can transform how they actually work – not just how they communicate. Using everything from cloud-based project management software to taking a data-driven approach to their work, charities and nonprofits can become much more efficient, do their work much more effectively and potentially have a much greater impact.
Digital transformation in its broadest sense has the power to help charities and nonprofits reach new audiences, build greater trust, grow fundraising, enhance advocacy – and deliver more effective services. But it needs to be embraced by the whole organisation and not just the comms team in order to keep Irish charities and nonprofits relevant and help them grow.