7. Charities Are No Longer Relevant in the Digital Age
Charities are no different to any other sector in that they are being challenged by the rise of digital. But their slowness to adapt means they face being left behind. The new Digital Age has empowered users to do good outside of traditional structures.
Just as any sector/institution might ask itself how it can be relevant to the millennial generation, so too might charities. The sector has to face up to whether or not charities and volunteering as we currently know them are relevant to a generation that has been brought up in a digital age and look to different forms and mechanisms for social action (such as online platforms, petition sites and crowdfunding).
It’s fair to say that there are clear barriers to charities’ ability to engage fully with the new digital and data agenda, not least the scarcity of funding and in-sector expertise within smaller organisations. But the risk is huge that unless charities embrace this new era, they will in the words of Martin Francis Campbell, chief information officer of World Vision and chair of the Digital Collective, “quickly go the way of Woolworths and Borders. Nostalgic organisations which remind us of the way things used to be”.
Charities are of course still relevant today, but the time to act is now. A good first step for any charity would be to sign up to The Charity Digital Code, funded by the Lloyds Banking Group and the Co-op Foundation, and overseen by a steering group of charity representatives. There is a special version of the code for smaller charities along with help for those with limited resources.
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I have been lucky enough to work with – and on – some good boards in the charity sector. That may surprise you, given that trustees generally come in for a lot of flak – not least from their own CEOs and senior managers. The thing is, good boards don’t happen overnight. You achieve them with patience, care and forethought.
My sympathy to all organisations having to cope with flood damage after recent storms. I know what it feels like because I have been there. I was responsible for putting a recovery plan in operation for a charity when its offices and community centre suffered flooding just a few years ago.
It once seemed that charities could do no wrong, but in recent years the misdemeanours of a high-profile few has put the whole sector on the back foot with the public.