Three ideas from the Charity Comms Charity Digital conference

It seems like the only time I write anything these days is if I leave a job or go to a Charity Comms event.

That either means I lack imagination or that Charity Comms events are very good. I’m going to say it’s the latter and share three useful things I took from last week’s Charity Digital conference.

1. Start with the problem you’re trying to solve.

The opening talk at the conference (from Matt Haworth at Reason Digital) included a line about the charity sector being in the age of ‘digital service delivery’ — where digital isn’t just a fundraising or communications tool anymore, but a core part of how charities reach and help people.

If you’re already concerned your organisation isn’t using digital effectively, this might not be a reassuring thought. So, stop thinking about ‘digital’ as a big, abstract thing — and focus instead on the problems you’re trying to solve.

In his conference session, Matt James from WellChild shared how his organisation was able to use technology to help families with seriously ill children, despite not having a digital or an IT team. They did this by focusing on one problem those families faced, doing research to better understand that problem, and working with a trusted digital partner to build, test and develop something to fix it.

Focusing on one specific problem helped WellChild choose the right digital tool to help people, without wasting time, money or becoming overwhelmed and giving up. But to really understand the problems you’re trying to solve, you’ll need to…

2. Do your research.

If your organisation has a problem to solve, a good way to get your head around it is to do some user research — to get out there and speak directly to the people it affects, as well as looking at any data or other information you have to give their experiences more context.

If you’re not sure how to do this, I’ve found GOV.UK’s guidance very useful, and have also done some great user research training with CAST (who — disclosure alert — I’ve also worked with quite a lot at NCVO).

Several of Wednesday’s speakers mentioned how much doing research and staying focused on the people they needed to help had benefited them.

An example that stood out was Mind, who worked with their digital partners to turn user research into personas — fully developed descriptions of their users that helped them and the rest of their organisation create the right website content to help those people.

Not sure how to find the right digital partner to work with? Research can help here too. In my experience, most people working in charity digital are willing to share recommendations of great organisations to work with. I’m happy to chat about who we work with at NCVO, too.

3. Don’t be good — be great.

Monzo, the ever-popular online banking service, got an early mention at Wednesday’s conference. Wouldn’t it be great, Matt Haworth suggested, if the digital services provided by charities sparked the same excitement and good feelings that a service like Monzo does?

I liked this example because I’m a big Monzo fan. And I also think it’s not as far-fetched as it might first seem.

In one of my favourite sessions at the conference, Peter Larkin from Nice and Serious suggested that by focusing so much on the functional aspects of digital products, we’ve forgotten to think about how they make people feel. Given that most charities rely on making connections with people — building trust, inspiring support, reaching people when they need help the most — this seems like a mistake on our part.

Instead, he asked us to think about how we’d really like people to describe our digital products and services. By doing this, we can make tiny improvements— like changing the wording on a button or swapping an image — to turn interacting with our charities online from a good experience to a great one.

And it was this small idea — that small changes can make a big impact, and that we all have to start somewhere — that I’ll be thinking about the most as my organisation continues to navigate the changing world of digital.

Visit the Charity Comms website to see all the presentations mentioned here, and thanks to them for another great event.