If you are technically minded, sometimes the best thing you can do for charity is donate your expertise
Not-for-profit groups aren’t always the most tech-savvy organisations, so if you know the difference between volunteering and virtualisation, you could make an invaluable contribution. Here’s a couple of examples of how your technical knowledge moves mountains.
Jess Bailey is an expert in one of the new disciplines of the digital age: crowdfunding. Since this is a relatively recent phenomenon to arise from the online world, expertise is at a premium. Bailey applies her knowledge for Global Giving, which runs the the world’s oldest and largest crowdfunding platform for non-profit organisations. Which makes it a sort of charity for charities.
Of the have 39 current charities it helps, 12 are international and 11 of the 27 UK based charities do their work overseas. Few ever have more than two paid staff and they’re mostly run by volunteers. People who work for others for nothing tend not to be business minded, so they could be forgiven for their reticence over online trading.
Non-profit organisations are especially in need of training these days, as conditions for charities are becoming tougher, according to Bailey. “They need this [training] because of the government cuts in charity funding and the stiff competition for grants. It is much harder to get this money nowadays and it is not sustainable,” says Bailey.
A charity might get a £10,000 grant one year and nothing the next. The loss of income is one thing, but they also end up spending more time in budget meetings than on their vocation. Bailey’s objective is to teach them ways to be more sustainable and open about their fundraising.
If any organisation, public or private, can crack crowdfunding it can make them less vulnerable to the swings of fortune, says Bailey. It is better to receive small amounts from large numbers of investors, as the impact of one donor dropping out is less painful. In addition, crowdfunding could help improve the image of the charity sector, because it forces the charities to be more accountable. When the public can see where their money goes they are more enthusiastic about donating.
Bailey’s workshops consist of six weeks of online interactive training webinars in different aspects of crowdfunding. Charity fundraisers can use tips on building a crowd and growing it, especially through social media. There is a one day interactive Facebook group and afterwards delegates end up sharing useful charity strategies.
The workshops, which either run online or in different cities, take place twice a year. As part of the course delegates are made to conduct a four week crowdfunding campaign so they can learn on the job. Few charities understand social media or even emailing, let alone crowdfunding. Some come on the course with no individual donors and end up having raised £2,500 from more than 50 people.
Like many new technology skills, crowdfunding is changing all the time so the course has to keep changing as new trends emerge. “There is more emphasis on visual storytelling now,” says Bailey.
Meanwhile, in the private sector, communications company Cradlepoint has teamed up with Irish volunteary organisation, Disaster Tech Lab, to put free emergency wi-fi in refugee camps. There are 18 camps across the Greek islands and mainland which are now connected by 3G and 4G LTE. Cradlepoint devised systems so that non-government organisations, such as volunteers aid providers and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), can work more efficiently in an environment that could easily become chaotic without a foundation of good communications.
Cradlepoint gives two levels of access: a password encrypted network for the UN, aid organisations and the Greek military and an open WiFi network for refugees to keep in touch with relatives and communicate with authorities. On arrival in Greece, for example, asylum seekers make their initial application to the Greek authorities via a Skype call. Creating the network is a challenge in areas with no electrcity grid, so power comes from solar panels, batteries or wind turbines, rigged up by Disaster Tech Lab.
Mission critical is an over-used phrase in IT, but the involvement of Global Giving, Cradlepoint and Disaster Tech Lab in these stories really does justify the accolade.