Local and very good for you!
Written by Terry Stokes, Chief Executive at Lasa
Today is Local Charities Day and a time for rooftop shouting about their energy, commitment, expertise and the benefits they bring to their communities. These groups are also usually described as small — but only in terms of income rather than impact and reach.
To get some indication of the contribution made by local charities just take a look at examples of the work of Small Charities Coalition and Locality as well as the data compiled by NCVO on the scale and make up of the small charity sector.
As the NCVO Almanac comments we know very little about many aspects of small charities — even though they make up 80% of the sector — they only receive 8% of their income from government.
So what do we know about their digital maturity? Well very little in terms of hard data and with all due deference to the exemplars of fantastic work being done our experience at Lasa would believe us to assume that for the many the barriers to getting the best out of digital remain profoundly challenging.
As an attempt to illustrate the basis of these challenges our Connecting Care Project Evaluation 2016 hopefully provides some insights. We surveyed 40 small charities providing social care from across England based on three principal challenges we’d identified and were seeking to address:
- A lack of organisational capability to make best use of digital
- Low levels of digital confidence and skills amongst staff, and
- Low levels of digital access and support for people using services.
We sought to address these challenges by delivering proactive strategic digital support — in the form of site visits to deliver tailored digital self-assessment, action planning and development — and digital skills support.
Our survey said that the charities reported consistently positive experiences by gaining an insight into their current digital status and future priorities, being better able to align digital with organisational objectives and feeling more confident and informed about purchasing digital products and services.
However, for us this confirmed our view that small organisations continue to struggle with digital capability at both strategic and operational levels. The result is an inability to take advantage of the benefits digital can bring to organisational efficiency, service quality, and service user experience.
Our technology advice and information service has found a similar story amid a backdrop of continued pressure on resources and rising demand for services. We’ve consistently found a number of barriers to organisations adapting and responding to change:
- digital technology skills and knowledge are typically modest amongst charity leaders and staff
- knowing whom to trust for impartial advice is a major stumbling block for many smaller charities
- a lack of capacity and the daily struggle to survive is the biggest barrier to the better use of technology to support service delivery.
This together with the fact that the use of digital is no longer optional in a competitive and regulated environment for charities and that many people are increasingly expecting services to be self-served online before face to face adds further pressures.
The reason this is important is that it is these small charities that are often closest to those who are at greatest risk of being digitally excluded and if we are going to reach everyone these local groups are the way in. However, if they are going to help others use digital services they need to be helped themselves to get better at using digital.
If we wish to ensure that digital by default from national and local government brings more than just transactional savings for the state and helps our communities to be fully engaged we need to find ways to reach out to our local charities. So when the rooftop shouting dies down we’ll need to look at how we can best support small charities to get the best out of digital into the future.
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Lasa is a social welfare law and tech charity. Established in 1984, we’re dedicated to supporting organisations in their use of technology and the delivery of social welfare law advice to the disadvantaged communities they serve.
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Originally published at digileaders.com on December 15, 2016.