Posted in Blog News

Discovering the power of digital

I’m Michaela Hodges and in the run up to VCSSCamp I was thinking about what I could write a blog about that would be interesting and relevant. And, to be honest, I was struggling. Not because there is nothing to say about why using digital is good and would help the work of VCS orgs, but because there’s almost so much to say it’s hard to think of just one point to make about all this.

Group discussing smartphone apps at VCSSCamp Three in Barnsley (by Paul Webster)
Group discussing smartphone apps at VCSSCamp Three in Barnsley (by Paul Webster)

So I thought to myself, ‘OK, start simple by thinking about what a VCS is’. Then I did what I always do when I want to know something, I picked up my phone and went to Google. First I was directed to the NCVO website, which makes sense since they’re pretty big. I had a look around there and then, because I live in Birmingham, I thought of BVSC, so I had a look at the most recent e-newsletter I received from them. Thinking about that I remembered I met some people from Voluntary Action Leicestershire at an event last week and we talked about newsletters, so I had a look at their Twitter feed to see what they’ve been up to. From there I followed the hashtag #VolunteersWeek and read loads of great posts about the difference volunteering makes in communities. On that hashtag I saw Kensington and Chelsea Volunteer Centre’s great pictures from their #Queenat90 celebrations, and I also found an amusing video from vinspired about the ‘seven types of volunteer’. From there I watched a few more videos from various places based on what came up in YouTube’s ‘up next’ offerings.

As I was doing this, it suddenly struck me what I was doing. Ten, or even five, years ago I wouldn’t have researched something this way. On mobile, using social media, and video. The way people get information has changed.

For example, last month the Pew Research Centre found that 62% of US adults are getting their news from social media. In the charity world, 75% of charity donors use online resources to research a charity before they make a donation. And a new report by the Institute of Fundraising and fast.Map found that email is now the preferred method of contact by charity donors (and yes, that includes people 55 and over). And it’s not just the internet generally – we’re talking about more than text – it’s images and videos. In 2015, YouTube overtook Facebook as the second largest search engine, and there are YouTube channels (run by ordinary people), that have larger viewing figures than some TV shows, for example the season finale of season four of Game of Thrones generated 8.2 million views, but some YouTube videos reviewing, recapping, re-enacting and generally discussing Game of Thrones generated twice as many views.

Whether we like it or not digital has created new ways for people to do things, like access information. And it’s not going away. So if we want to continue to engage with the public and get stuff done, we can’t not use digital.

But, why wouldn’t we use digital? It represents a huge opportunity, and when you think about what it can do, it’s pretty amazing actually.

For example, Julia Unwin of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation was selected as one of the top 30 charity CEOs on Twitter, she said she uses social media because it allows her to connect with people she wouldn’t otherwise be able to meet. She said “I love the fact that someone experiencing poverty who heard me on the radio can get directly in touch”.

YES! This is the power of digital to connect people, in action.

And it’s not just about digital comms, for example Cancer Research UK created an app called ‘Play to ‘Cure’. It’s a game set in space that users can play to pass some time on a boring train journey or while they’re waiting for an appointment. But it’s also a lot more than that, as Cancer Research UK explained themselves at the launch of the app “We’ve been working with our scientists and gaming experts for months to build the game, which on the surface is a simple and entertaining caper through space. But underneath it’s a data crunching powerhouse that help’s our scientists identify the DNA faults that could lead to cancer”. In order to carry out their vital cancer research, scientists at Cancer Research UK were having to trawl through huge amounts of data, which obviously takes time. This app, by gamifying this task and making accessible to the public, means that people can play a game and analyse the data, getting the results back much faster.

That’s real cancer research, happening on people’s phones! A device we used to use to just call people! That’s amazing!

I’m using a lot of exclamation marks because I think this is exciting, and there are a lot of other examples I could give, but I should probably clam down. And, more importantly, it’s not really about what other people are doing – it’s about what you could be doing.

In 2014 the Government’s Digital Inclusion Delivery Board looked at the barriers preventing small businesses and charities from getting the most out of the internet. The Board identified a lack of awareness, motivation, and availability of digital skills training. The findings of a number of reports in this area back this up, finding that lack of time and knowledge are the main barriers to progress.  Also see the Virgin Money Giving and Third Sector Insight (2015) Digital Fundraising Report: Are you innovating with online fundraising? and the Nesta Impact Investments (October 2014) Going Digital Research.

We need to change this. And really, I think we know that, for example a report by Eduserv and Charity Comms found that 73% of charity staff surveyed thought their organisation would raise less money if they didn’t embrace digital, and 70% thought their organisation’s reputation would suffer.

We need to get to a place where instead of being baffled by digital, or maybe even a little wary, we’re excited about it.

We need to up-skill as a sector.

So my message to you is embrace all the digital training you can get – starting (but not ending!) with VCSSCamp on 23 June. The day is run in an unconference format, so there is no set agenda before the day starts. We will talk about whatever you want to talk about – you pick the sessions. All you need is a desire to talk about how digital has changed the landscape we live and work in, what we are doing, and what we could be doing.

I’ll see you there. J

Michaela Hodges is the Director of Fancy Guppy, an organisation working with not-for-profit organisations to help them use digital to save time and money. When used well digital can help you be more attractive to funders, engage your supporters, and improve efficiency. Get in touch for a free consultation – we’ll discuss what you’re needs are and what support Fancy Guppy can offer.

You can find Fancy Guppy on Twitter at @Fancy_Guppy and on Facebook at FancyGuppyDigital. Follow and like for updates and discussion on digital, the third sector, and digital in the third sector.

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Author:

I've worked in the voluntary sector listening to people and helping them use technology for 17 years and believe strongly that people come first and technology second. My latest work is with Lasa helping older people's organisations small social chare charities use tablet devices for living well and develop their own technology plans & ideas. I'm always learning from people I talk to at meet-ups and bring experience of running the NetSquared Midlands Meet-up, VCSSCamp unconferences and many social media surgeries. I'm also the UK & Europe contact for the NetSquared Tech for Social Good meet ups. I connect people and communities to get the most from technology and the web. I like listening, linking and real beer & hate seeing the wheel being reinvented and sweetcorn.

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