Charity organisations are too conservative when it comes to adopting new technology

The mention of new technology can send just about any charity running for cover. It’s not about the cost, although that can sometimes be a factor, it is about being conservative. The culture that exists in the sector is often extremely conservative. Surely there is a case to be made for a charity to be an early adopter. Why not try and create a culture conducive to attracting those who want to be on the leading edge while at the same time participating in a sector that is focussed on people rather than profit? Why not embrace technology that allows you to be the first to reach people in a new way, providing more opportunity to engage with a broader audience to maintain awareness and support of your cause?

Correct me if I am wrong, but while the latest technology adopter story from the US shows schools now opting to give children iPads, most of the charity organisations I have encountered in Australia are still running PCs with Windows XP and Office 2003 maybe 2007 and on the rare occasion 2010. The mention of something outside the PC environment sends IT departments into a tail spin, while conservative management still grasp with the basics.

What is ironic is that so many charities have ‘innovation’ as a core value, yet they run from early adoption of technology. While innovation does not always equal technology, it surely is a big factor and one that helps promote it.

Technology has given us options. These options allow people to be creative. They allow you to do things in a different way. They allow you to reach more segmented markets and deliver messages to particular audiences. Mass communication is a dying art, it is all about segmenting and maximising reach to a targeted audience. What’s more technology is encouraging us to work differently. Charity organisations should know better than anyone that we are all individuals and therefore we all want and need to operate differently.

This argument is not just about whether a charity should allow a Mac into an office environment. It’s more than just whether they have been sucked into believing they must operate only in a Micorsoft environment (even ignoring the fact that a Mac can run Office or even be set up with Windows). It’s about the tools that exist – like social media. What percentage of charity organisations in Australia have adopted any social media tool? Conservatively, because that seems to be the word of the day, based on anecdotal evidence (if anyone can show me some actual researched figures from an official authority let me know please) less than 10% of charity organisations have an active real presence on Facebook. If you look at LinkedIn you would be struggling to get to 1%. I find it interesting that many of the CEO’s of charities who are listed on LinkedIn opt to use a personal email address as their contact and have not considered setting up a page for their organisation with any activity on it.

If you look at Twitter, there is only a handful of charities operating an active account. Of those that do have an account it is too often dominated purely by statements of their next event and direct asks for donations. There is not much of a conversation happening. I have said it in previous blogs, twitter is a tool all charity organisations should adopt because it is a way of subtly remaining in supporters social consciousness. It should almost always be about maintaining a conversation and not about directly asking for money. Of course it has to be part of an overall digital strategy that is embedded in a communication strategy that in turn is directly evolved from a strategic plan.

Charity organisations are avoiding technology at their own peril. The sector is becoming increasingly competitive not just from within, but also from outside as funding structures change and businesses enter the market place traditionally owned by charities.

Those that are responsible for introducing new technology could do well to offer further incentives for early adoption from charities. It will not only give them a further testing ground for their product, but they will know they are helping various causes.

It is time for the conservative culture of technologically phobic charity organisations to change. Adopt now and embrace new and targeted audiences. Be creative. Stand out. Experiment. Have fun. Reach out to people in a new way, whether it is targeting supporters or it is finding a new way to help people. Surely that is what is at the heart of any charity – using whatever you can to reach people and ultimately help people.