Tips on Expanding and Improving Service through Digital Technology

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February 8, 2013; Source: Guardian

Writing in the Guardian, Patrick Nash asserts that many charities are still not considering some of the ways in which they might easily expand their service delivery impact through the use of digital technology. He also discusses fundraising but we will leave that for another (and another and another) time.


Nash writes that the “new generation of sophisticated customer relationship management software caters for online self-help solutions” but that charities often do not fulfil the expectations of their constituents and that in not using the technology they are neglecting the opportunity to reduce the cost of service delivery. Nash is not suggesting that digital interactions with constituents should replace face-to-face and phone interactions, but merely augment such interactions. And he thinks that the capital that is needed to establish such systems will soon be “eclipsed by gains, such as more users supported, more time spent with priority cases and improved user satisfaction.”


Some of Nash’s top tips, in abridged form:


“Research, research, research. Engage with your target users. Set up interviews and focus groups to find out exactly what services they may be looking for. Don’t waste time and money on creating a website that doesn’t actually serve the people it is aimed at. But don’t be afraid to be visionary…Combine robust research with a clear vision of how your digital services could help users, and you’ll be on the path to success…


Be accessible…The most successful charities and social enterprises offer information and support through…avenues such as their websites, social media and web chat to make sure as many people as possible are included. It’s also worth asking whether your service is open at the right time for the people you serve…Our experience is that the need for support is not limited to 9am to 5pm on weekdays…


Allow for self-help. Once you have a clear idea of what target users expect of your service and you have made your service available and easy to access, set up a site that allows them to readily access any information they require. Ease of navigation is crucial. It doesn’t matter how flashy your site looks if it isn’t simple for users to find potential solutions…”


Nash ends with the obvious admonition to expect to have to consistently test and fine-tune your systems over time. We like his clear and simple approach even though we know it is far from simple to accomplish. –Ruth McCambridge

  • Marc Baizman

    One of the key challenges to nonprofits adopting sophisticated technology tools to serve their clients is all-too-briefly glossed over in the beginning of the article: “…there is an outlay involved in introducing more sophisticated systems….”

    Where does Mr. Nash think this “outlay” of money and.or staff time will be coming from? Funders certainly aren’t investing in “administrative costs” which is often where these systems are classified in the organizational budget. As a technology consultant who works exclusively with nonprofits, I am constantly trying to convince clients to spend *a little more* on their technology systems so that they have a stable infrastructure rather than spending “just enough” for stop-gap solutions. Some organizations and boards “get it”, and some don’t, but every organization that I’ve worked with doesn’t have extra money laying around waiting to be spent on sophisticated technology systems.

    To his credit, Mr. Nash does give examples of successful organizations that are using technology effectively, but I suspect that those organizations are quite a minority of all the charities in the UK.