Digital technology is the most powerful tool for social innovation that we have ever had. Yet despite its undeniable impact on all aspects of our lives, and the growing momentum of the UK’s ‘tech for good’ movement, its potential still remains largely untapped by established charities.

But, well-designed tech for good should help existing nonprofits better serve their communities, drive down costs and free up employees’ time to focus on the work that really matters. It presents a huge and exciting opportunity to reach more people and deliver greater impact.

a group of people around boardroom table working on ideas for Safelives project

Through Fuse, our digital accelerator for nonprofits, we support charities to research, build and integrate tightly-focused digital products on an iterative and collaborative basis with their service users. We also run a Digital Fellowship for charity CEOs and trustees, which helps build their confidence and understanding to become leaders of the sector’s digital transformation. This is through a hands-on action learning programme, culminating in a product design sprint.

We have seen that the reach, networks and reputation of established charities makes them extremely well-placed to accelerate the speed of tech for good development. For example, last year’s Tech4Good Awards winner, Wayfindr (from the Royal Society for Blind Children and digital products studio UsTwo), evolved rapidly from being a prototype wayfinding product for people with sight loss, into a certified open standard for audio navigation. It is now being used and tested across the EU in multiple sectors, after it was conceived two years ago.

Jointly, an app created by Carers UK in 2015, working with the CAST team, is now used by some of the UK’s 6.5 million carers in Britain to help manage their role. One in eight adults cares, unpaid, for family and friends. The app can help them to co-ordinate their caring with others. What’s more, the process of developing Jointly catalysed a new strategy at Carers UK, which places digital at the heart of providing 21st century support for carers.

Our 2016 programme graduates are already showing promising progress and improving lives: Breast Cancer Care’s community support app, ‘BECCA’, was created last August and has already supported over 1,100 women to adjust to life after breast cancer.

Following their Digital Fellowship experience, the team at National Ugly Mugs (another former Tech4Good Awards winner) has grown to better understand and use the language and methodologies of development, such as managing a product build directly on GitHub, the code repository used by most programmers; while Quaker Social Action put their learnings about design processes and working with developers into action in the creation of their new website.

cartoon girl pointing brightly lit inspiration lightbulb

Senior leaders at some of our other Fellowship organisations, such as SafeLives (pictured above: domestic violence charity SafeLives works on digital projects) , ARA and Wales Co-op are now part of a growing tribe of sector advocates using tech in service delivery (see this more detailed profile on Diabetes UK for another example). Like Jointly before them, they have ma de digital a core part of the strategic plans and have recognised the opportunity it presents to fundamentally redesign their engagement with beneficiaries.

We believe the digital revolution gives us a chance to empower people and their communities to lead by supporting vital community organisations to respond to this dramatically changing context.

At a time when the sector is under increasing pressure from rising demand and decreasing funds, it is more urgent than ever to build digital capacity in charities, so that they can harness tech for good to make their services more effective, sustainable and scalable.

Written by Ellie Hale, Associate at CAST, which supports organisations in digital development.

Ellie leads CAST’s Digital Fellowship, supports on the Fuse accelerator and co-organises regular community meetups including Tech for Good London and NetSquared London.

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