Bringing digital into service delivery

A version of this article first appeared in the April/May print issue of Charity Times.

We’ve seen lots of examples of charities using digital to make a huge impact, and there are certainly encouraging signs to be found within the recent Charity Digital Skills Report.

Often these show transformations in fundraising: global campaigns such as the Ice Bucket Challenge; the incredible Global Giving crowdfunding for grassroots organisations across the world, or making it easy to donate spare pennies.

Equally, we’ve seen incredible examples of charities using digital to communicate: to raise awareness of their work, like British Heart Foundation’s #RESTARTAHEART campaign, or to celebrate their impact, like Street League’s Impact Dashboard.

But outside of our sector, it’s the shift to digital services that has created the most dramatic change. How we search for information and complete transactions — from customer service queries, to having purchases arrive at our doors almost immediately. The brands we recognise, the prices we expect to pay and the processes we expect to use have all changed as digital services have played a greater role in our lives.

Such has been the shift in digital behaviours, that our sector needs to respond with urgency. This is because people seeking support more and more expect a digital ‘way’ of solving their problem.

This urgency isn’t about a lack of digital services though.

By 2016 there were over 259,000 health apps on the app stores which had been downloaded over 3.2 billion times. Of these apps, it’s estimated that less than 0.1% have any evidence of efficacy and social impact. The urgency isn’t the lack of digital services — it’s the billions of times that people looking for support are by-passing our sector. All of the expertise, wisdom and commitment within charities is being missed as people reach out digitally and only find solutions built elsewhere.

As charities, to ensure we’re meeting the needs, behaviours and expectations of those who need our sector’s support, we must now focus on developing effective digital services.

There are already some amazing examples of digital services created and delivered by charities. Breast Cancer Care’s BECCA app is providing personalised support to nearly 10,000 women as they leave clinical treatment for breast cancer, while Age UK’s Steps platform supports volunteers to have more detailed and person-centred conversations with older people. Each of these was developed on our Fuse digital accelerator programme for established nonprofits — the mobile app and tablet-based tool, respectively, enable the charities to deliver user-led services that respond to people’s existing digital behaviours.

So where to start?

1. Start small. Good digital development is about building confidence that you’ve identified the right problem to address, and then that you’ve got the right solution to that problem. This confidence builds as you continually understand people’s needs (from their perspective), and then test and develop your response.

2. Discover your service users’ digital habits and preferences. Talk with five service users about their use of digital as a starting point. Ask what products they use and how they find new information, such as cinema times or the best price for a purchase they’re considering. Asking questions about specific current/past behaviours (rather than future wishes) means you’ll begin to unveil their existing digital preferences. If you can align your services with these preferences and expectations, you’ve much greater chance of your service being used and providing value.

We’re always keen to hear from charities about the challenges they face and how we can help overcome them (at CAST, but as a sector too). You can book a 30-minute Office Hours call to chat to the team to chat about your digital questions and issues. Office hours take place fortnightly between 11am — 1pm on Fridays.



The Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology — upskilling and upscaling social sector organisations to use technology for accelerated social change.

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