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.

Posted in Blog News, This is VCSSCamp

Where did July go?

Was it really a month ago when we were making the final preparations for the fourth VCSSCamp? Yes it was and since then July seems to have flown by!

Anyway, we opened the lid on the ‘social media stockpot’ to see what had been captured from the event in the various on-line spaces … and were pleasantly surprised by all the tweets, pictures, blogs and even video from the day.

We’ve pulled together all those we can find in this blog post, but if anything has been missed (or you still have a blog in draft you keep meaning to post!) then please add the links in the comments and we’ll update the post as a record of YOUR day.

VCSSCamp Four Group Photograph
VCSSCamp Four Group Photograph (by Sasha Taylor)


The many Tweets and Pictures from Flickr have been assembled into a Storify page – – and in roughly the correct order from the day too!


Thank you to those who have blogged on their websites about the day.

Kate from Superhighways shares here thoughts about Open Data –

Matt from CVAT reflects not on the ‘geeky stuff’, but on how the Unconference approach to running an event worked for him –

Throughout VCSSCamp was live blogging the day. You can read the summary he created here


Our photographer for the day was the wonderful @sasha_taylor who did a fine job of capturing a record of the day in pictures. The full gallery is here


A separate blog post is to follow listing your feedback from the Post-Its in the final wrap-up session.

If you have any other content you’d like to add please let us know in the comments.

Posted in Blog News

Digital Things & Charities … play, learn (and dance!)

I started this morning by tweeting the link to a video that is guaranteed* to make you smile and dance around the office. It’s the Crypt Covers version of Ghostbusters (a film which is 31 years old this week!) by the wonderful Hope & Social. (* keep your receipt, i’ll exchange it for something else if it doesn’t work)

Then reading through my e-mail I found this infographic released today from the Technology Trust which neatly sums the sections of the latest Lloyds Bank Digital Index (March 2015) that relates to charities. It’s enough to wipe the smile off your face and to make you bang your head against that brick wall. Or is it?

At first what concerned me was that almost 70% of charities don’t think having a modern responsive website will increase their funding, that only 23% of Charities are investing to improve digital skills and that over a quarter of charities think that they have done all they can online(!). Really? The Internet is quite large!

However, rather than being upsetting, this gives us a great opportunity to do more with the organisations we know, support, volunteer and work with.

Learn as you ‘play’ with digital technology, experiment with social media tools to increase fundraising and try out new online tools. For example these links show ways that Periscope and Slack can be used in the nonprofit sector. No direct financial investment is needed in increasing your digital skills, but of course increased digital skills is likely to be the end result as you become more confident in the way these tools can be used to promote the aims of the charity. Directly coupled to this is the (free!) bonus that by experimenting with new digital technology organisations will not long be thinking ‘they’ve done all they can online’.

Ways we can promote this in our organisations is another topic to think about and to discuss at VCSSCamp on 30th June.

As for wildly leaping around the office … it’s back to Hope & Social for the (free bonus!) answer   

Here’s the full Technology Trust infographic for you.

An infographic showing the uptake of digital technology in the UK charity sector in 2015

Posted in Blog News

Thinking of topics for VCSSCamp

With less than a month to go until VCSSCamp Four takes place in Birmingham (there’s still a few tickets available) you might (OK probably not!) be thinking about the sessions you’d like to pitch, or the discussions you’d like to have.

Recently i’ve read a couple of research reports that discuss technology in our organisations and how we could (and should) be doing more with it. I’d be really interested to hear the views of staff from infrastructure organisation on these reports and what we can do to make the use of digital technology more central all the organisation does.

Firstly there was the NAVCA “Future of Local Infrastructure” report published in January 2015 which highlighted many challenges faced by infrastructure organisations, but also suggested that  :

“Infrastructure needs to be financed, but it also has to undergo a redesign. It needs to be leaner, meaner and more technologically savvy. It needs to act as a lever bringing in new resources to the sector, including social investment, crowd funding and pro bono support. It needs to be the enabler of voice and the advocate of community action. It needs to collaborate and share more cost effectively. It needs to promote and develop the ‘time economy’, co-production and good volunteering practices. Above all, it needs to help the sector with foresight and managing change, because the pace of change is not going to slow.” Sara Llewellin Chair of Chair of the Commission the Commission “

You can download the report from the NAVCA website here.

Then secondly, published last week was “The New Reality” a research study conducted by Julie Dodd about how digital technology will deliver the next step-change in social impact. It is based on interviews with over 50 senior leaders and digital experts from both inside and outside the non-profit sector. The report offers a “20 Steps to Digital Transformation” chart and presents 10 key insights for change from which i’ve picked out a couple here.

Major skills gaps need plugging. The speed of technology change has created a gap between the digital skills that organisations have, and additional ones they need. Key areas identified were: data, digital strategy, lean and iterative process management, and business model.”

The next stage of digital for non-profits is not fundraising and marketing. Efforts and successes in digital to date have largely been focused on digital marketing and fundraising. Whilst these have been – and continue to be – valuable, the focus now needs to be on how digital technology can transform organisations around their core mission. This may mean moving digital teams away from these directorates in order to grow digital expertise across the board.”

The New Reality can be downloaded here.

You may also have read about the work that New Philanthropy Capital are doing and the two part question posed by Tris Lumley of NPC about “The power of digital to transform the sector”. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

“Digital technology can be the driving force behind this transformation, giving us fundamentally new abilities. It is connective—joining together people, services, knowledge and places. It is efficient—doing some things faster, more accurately and at a cheaper rate than people. And it can be intelligent—with the ability to analyse, map, diagnose and predict.”

“I believe digital technology holds the key to unlocking value chain thinking in the social sector.”

I can’t argue with any of this … but are our organisations doing this or even ready and equipped to do this? Are they still thinking “that’s a good idea, but we can’t possibly achieve it”?

They have convened a “Technology For Good” Digital Transformation group to look at these questions, it will be interesting to hear the results of this group and how it will work with and listen to the smaller organisations in the sector and the infrastructure organisations that support them!

I’m sure you have also read other reports that have prompted thoughts, or that you have your own topic and passion that you’d like to discuss with others. It’s an unconference so the floor is yours!

Please suggest topics in the comments below or just come along, either with topics to discuss or simply with questions to ask or issues that trouble you (well technology related ones anyway!)

We look forward to meeting you all in Birmingham on 30th June.

Posted in Blog News, This is VCSSCamp

How to become a social CEO

BlooIt really helps if, as the CEO, you’re actually in the room at the beginning or in the early stages of an event to promote the voluntary sector use of digital and tech, which might sound a bit odd when so much of being social these days can be done virtually i.e. from somewhere else besides the place where the event is happening, but in this case, I think being face to face can really help to lay down good foundations.

We’ve been fortunate with VCSSCamp in that the infrastructure organisation RAWM (Regional Action West Midlands) was the main sponsor of the first one in 2013, and their CEO, Sharon Palmer, was able to be there for the early part of the event. Sharon was also there for most of VCSSCamp 2 in June 2014, and we also had our second CEO, Andy Gray from Dudley CVS (who also sponsored both VCSSCamp 1 and 2) at that one. Neither of these CEOs would claim to be social media, or digital, experts, but they knew enough to want to be there, and it was clear that they both appreciate the staff and volunteers they have who do know and use digital a bit more regularly.

And so we came to VCSSCamp 3 in Barnsley. The venue was ace – accessible, light-filled and plenty of room to move around in. The Voluntary Action Barnsley staff were warm and welcoming and the CE of Community Services, Nigel Middlehurst, was present from the start, working on his iPad until we began the intros. He explained that he would have to leave during the morning to attend another event, and we didn’t really expect him back. But he did come back, and he also went to several of the day’s sessions. He also took part, as did everyone else at VCSSCamp 3, in a Happy Birthday Vine (6-second video) shot by unconference veteran John Popham.

My point in referencing these 3 CEOs is that they made the time to come to VCSSCamp, and they stayed in the room, listening, learning and participating. They may become more social themselves, they may not, but they are demonstrating a fundamental quality of being a good leader, that they understand the importance of social and that they are supporting their staff, volunteers and trustees to be so. Isn’t that a key part of becoming a social CEO?

More reading including this year’s list of top charity #socialCEOs:

The Top 30 Social CEOs 2014

‘Social Media: A Briefing for Charity CEOs’ PDF by Zoe Amar and Matt Collins

Six ways charity chief executives are using social media for good by Zoe Amar, Nov 7 2014

How Your Organization’s CEO Can Use Social Media for Thought Leadership – by Beth Kanter