The Good Exchange: How to overcome the tech skills gap within charitable boards

By Ed Gairdner, COO of The Good Exchange – a not-for-profit cloud platform that matches organisations and individuals who have money to give to good causes with those who need it most.

Charities have been urged to do more to promote diversity on their boards since a report revealed that charities’ boards are not reflective of the communities they serve, with men outnumbering women two to one. Commissioned by the Office for Civil Society and the Charity Commission, the 2017 research also found that the majority (92 per cent) are white with above-average income and education level.

Many trustees are also older (on average aged between 55-64) with the majority (51 per cent) being retired. Of course, this particular role requires a certain level of commercial and/or managerial experience and for individuals to dedicate their time, usually for free, and it would be unfair not to acknowledge their motivation, with 93 per cent regarding their role as important or very important to them.

However, the status quo presents certain challenges for charities when it comes to innovating and embracing new technologies. Technology is here to simplify and aid processes in order to make grantmaking and applying for grants more effective, yet the third sector is currently operating five to ten years behind the commercial sector when it comes to digital, with less than a third (32 per cent) of CEOs agreeing that charities are using new technology effectively to increase giving.

The Good Exchange: How to overcome the tech skills gap within charitable boards

Embracing digital transformation in the third sector

Collaboration is key to unlocking the enormous potential that technology can deliver to the third sector. There needs to be a strategic drive from the top and the bottom where commercial organisations, trusts, foundations, community groups and more come together to drive and support not-for-profit charitable technology initiatives that can streamline and revolutionise the fundraising and grant-giving process. And the good news is that the solutions are at our fingertips. All trustees need to do is take that first step and start using technology to open and streamline the application process.

The Rosemary Appeal: An example of how technology can transform fundraising

Since 2016, The Rosemary Appeal has been raising money for a new centre at West Berkshire Community Hospital, providing essential facilities to the local community for cancer treatment and renal services, including day therapy, chemotherapy, renal dialysis, IV therapies and access to a CT Scanner. The Appeal has recently closed, after reaching its £5.7m funding target; the facilities are now fully operational, with local people already benefitting from enhanced care in their local community.

Previously, patients from Newbury and West Berkshire suffering from serious illnesses such as cancer and renal disease had to travel to major hospitals in Reading, Oxford and even further afield to Southampton and London to receive treatment. By raising the £5.7m needed to build the new wing at the West Berkshire Community Hospital, a significant number of patients in the local area are now able to receive state-of-the-art care in a day unit closer to home, improving their treatment and quality of life into the bargain.

A multichannel grant-giving process

The Rosemary Appeal initially struggled to compete with the larger, national charities when it came to applying for grants, and with one full-time professional fundraiser, the task of approaching and applying to the hundreds of trusts was unrealistic. Understanding the difficulty of reaching the target solely by applying for multiple grants, The Rosemary Appeal utilised our platform, finding that it alleviated the administrative burden that came with fundraising for such a significant amount.

‘We’re a relatively small charity, especially compared to the national ones. If we’d had to arrange this ourselves we’d have needed a department of people to keep our accounts right,’ commented Dr Robert Tayton at The Rosemary Appeal last year. ‘The platform has helped tremendously with that.’ Dr Tayton also saw first-hand the positive impact that doubled matched grants and donations had on charitable giving and the boost it gave the appeal to attract new funders and donors.

Digital’s potential to streamline fundraising

A strategic, digital approach to grantmaking and fundraising enabled The Rosemary Appeal to complete a single application form to then be auto-matched against grantmakers’ giving criteria, resulting in the Appeal raising over three quarters (77%) £4.4m out of the £5.7m needed through the online platform, with £1.9m of match funding grants that drove 1,039 donations and raised £1.8m from members of the public. The Rosemary Appeal is a key example of how charities, fundraisers and funders can really help close the funding gap – by thinking strategically about what needs to be done and working together to do it.

Technology has transformed the private sector and the way in which the majority of people live and work. Those managing charities and good causes must stop procrastinating and using lack of knowledge as a reason to do nothing and embrace digital to take advantage of the vast potential efficiency gains, as well as greater transparency and collaboration. This will help to level the funding playing field for charities of all sizes and drive more charitable giving into the bargain.