Digital transformation in the age of disruption

26 April 2021
Digital Integration
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A laptop on a table alongside an iPhone

As fundraisers draft and redraft fundraising plans and strategies to see us out of the pandemic, one of the golden questions being asked by teams across the land is, ‘how critical is the need to embed digital as the spine of our fundraising?’ Matt Smith, Senior Consultant with THINK, shares some thoughts.

The impact of the coronavirus on the third sector has been profound. With much public-facing fundraising on hold, events cancelled and the full economic impact still unknown. However, as we enter the recovery phase of the crisis, we believe this period of disruption will bring massive opportunity.

Just think about what has changed in the last twelve months. The mass adoption of digital tools like virtual events and conferences. Hugely improved digital donation journeys. Increased engagement on social media and whole new channels bringing vibrant content to millions (thank you Tik Tok and Twitch).

These shifts in new technology and digital transformation will bring multiple benefits for charities, including new income streams and more secure and transparent communication with supporters and beneficiaries. But most importantly, it will allow charities to operate in a more agile and efficient way.

However, these advances will not be without risk, nor barriers, for organisations to overcome. It is essential that fundraising leaders are at the heart of breaking down these obstacles and empowering teams to think and deliver in more creative ways.

New technology is helping charities raise money in more innovative ways, all without cannibalising existing income streams, and helping them reach new, younger audiences. The marketplace now has a plethora of new payment method providers and fundraising platforms for charities to utilise – tools that can help pick up some of the losses in public-facing fundraising. Whilst it can be challenging for decision makers to know which options to focus on, faster and more supporter-friendly platforms have provided organisations with multiple new income streams – most notably Facebook Donate, Tiltify and newer payment methods such as Apple Pay, Google Pay and Stripe.

One of the major consequences of the public health crisis will be the disappearance of physical currency. As cash is slowly replaced in the marketplace by contactless and smartphone payments, we will see charity adoption of this new technology surge. To mitigate the loss of physical cash, the Royal British Legion’s 2020 Poppy Appeal activated over 30,000 contactless terminals, QR code donations in stores and ‘Post a Poppy’ packs. We expect this to be one of the major areas of technological investment for charities in the next two years as cash disappears from potential donors’ pockets.

First the arrival of GDPR, and now the covid crisis, have provided unique opportunities for charities to review how they are collecting, storing and using data. In particular, supporters’ preferences and consents. We are now seeing charities take this improved data and, utilising more advanced insight tools and supporter platforms, making more interesting and innovative decisions about what a supporter sees and hears from them. We predict we will see more large digital products that bring greater clarity, transparency and accountability to a donor’s relationship with their chosen charity.

Technology is also improving how charities operate and communicate internally, with large scale hardware and software upgrades taking place across the sector. Charities, now geographically dispersed due to social distancing, are required to work in a more agile way to achieve their goals, and by using the latest cloud-sharing and internal comms software, we are seeing transformational shifts in how charities operate day-to-day. By investing in sharing software like Microsoft Teams, better servers and appropriate accessories, charities are now taking advantage of these innovations to work smarter and provide a better, and over the longer term, more flexible working environment for their staff.

To capitalise in all of these shifts, the sector needs to invest in the best people with first-hand experience of delivering impactful digital transformation and fundraising innovation. Charities must now have one eye on this ever-changing landscape, as the pace of change is due to ramp up even further. Following thought leaders on social media and partnering with disruptive and socially conscious companies will become even more essential.

As we come out of the covid-19 crisis, the coming months will present a challenging and ever-changing fundraising and technological environment, but charities should also be energised by these opportunities and by the chance to have a greater impact for their supporters and beneficiaries.


Matt Smith
Matt Smith
is a Senior Consultant with THINK, the international consultancy dedicated to not for profit fundraising.
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