When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK in early 2020, charities were forced to adapt with an urgency unlike ever before. For many, this meant embracing new, digital processes for everything from internal operations to service delivery and fundraising. The recognition of the need to change, and the subsequent speed of change has been astounding.

Now that the pandemic appears to be in retreat, it’s an interesting time to reflect on the progress that has been made, and to make sure that charities have plans in place to withstand future shocks.

Lightful’s aim is to support organisations to be more resilient and to be more sustainable through the use of digital. We believe that digital strategies and tools can help to achieve this, and all our work is focused on supporting non-profits to use digital products, implement digital solutions, and learn new digital skills.

Digital diversification of service delivery

Interest in digital service delivery solutions, such as the ones we provide at Lightful, had been growing steadily for several years but, as the pandemic took hold, we saw a sudden jump in demand.

Some charities had to move an essentially in-person service to a digital offering really quickly. We’ve helped clients like this to think through that entire process. This isn’t just about implementing technology, it's about transferring all of those in-person processes into a piece of digital technology, which takes longer, but ends in a much more effective result.

Some organisations will go back to non-digital delivery after the pandemic. Each method has its advantages. But, for the benefit of both the organisations themselves and those that use their services, we expect to see an increasingly hybrid style of working. People might not want to travel to reach charitable services that can be provided to them in the comfort of their own homes.

There is also the chance that COVID re-appears or that, due to another unpredictable event, charities need to pivot back to digital delivery in the future. The key to preparedness is to have more than one option and the ability to choose which delivery method a situation calls for.

Digital diversification of fundraising approaches

The pandemic impacted charities financially in two crucial respects, the first being the disruption of usual fundraising methods. Many organisations, particularly smaller, grassroots organisations, had been doing most of their fundraising through face-to-face events in the community and suddenly couldn't do that anymore.

While the speed of this turnaround was unpredictable, the direction of change was inevitable. The people who would give via cheque and direct mail are our grandparents’ generation. Even our parents’ generation is increasingly digitally literate when it comes to philanthropic giving, and every generation is moving further along that course.

Digital fundraising isn’t going to suddenly become the primary income stream for all charities. But all charities are going to need to do more digital work in the future. We believe that beginning that journey is critical.

Diversification of donors through digital programmes

Another financial challenge many charitable organisations faced at the start of the pandemic was a dependency on a small number of funding sources. When these donors completely pivoted their support to emergency COVID relief, funding that organisations relied upon started drying up.

This is not the only recent example of funder support disappearing. With the DFID and FCO merger, we saw huge numbers of projects stall for international development charities and a huge impact on local charities who relied on that income as their sole source.

The funding environment is changing, and we want to ensure that organisations don't get caught out without alternative sources of funds to keep their doors open.

Our Building Resilience in Digital Growth and Engagement (BRIDGE) learning programme is designed to support organisations to develop digital strategies, tell better stories online, and to run digital fundraising campaigns. It's an entirely virtual programme, delivered through a combination of webinars, on-demand, self-guided learning, peer learning and one-to-one coaching. We’ve seen a huge need and demand for this kind of programme and are proud to have worked with thousands of amazing charities, supported by some incredible funders.

Building digital diversification into your future plans

As we learn to live with COVID, some of the pressures of the last two years will ease, while others will remain. New challenging situations will unfold, and charities will need to adapt as successfully as they have in the last two years, likely on a continual basis.

With the right digital tools, programmes, and strategies, ongoing adaptation can become business-as-usual. If you’re interested in hearing more about this transition, join me at Investec’s Charities Webinar: The Art of Adaptation on 16 March, where I’ll be discussing these topics and more.

Alex was a guest speaker on our ‘Art of Adaptability: Transformation and Innovation in the Charity Sector’ webinar.