Small voluntary organisations want to go digital but lack the time, says new study

Written by Our News Team, DigitalAgenda

A new study shows 54% of small voluntary organisations (SVOs) identified “lack of time” as the top reason for slow digital uptake in their charity, despite over 82% acknowledging technology could support them to become more accessible, relevant and efficient

In a report launched today, the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) and Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology (CAST) explore the extent to which SVOs are able or willing to consider how technology might have a positive role to play in their work. Over half of the 72 SVOs surveyed said they don’t have the time to properly research and test different approaches to technology and 34% said they don’t have the time to implement and maintain them.  

IVAR and CAST are calling for funders to consider how they support infrastructure, training and experimentation costs associated with ‘digital transformation’ in small organisations, and to accept learning and change as a necessary part of developing services in a digital context. 

The publication of Start somewhere: An exploratory study into making technology imaginable and usable for small voluntary organisations coincides with Small Charity Week and Digital Leaders Week (18th – 22 June), and study findings include tips and advice from SVOs to other SVOs on overcoming the barriers to technology inclusion (included below).

CAST Director Dan Sutch said: 

“We found high levels of willingness and enthusiasm to engage, however for a small voluntary organisation barriers prevail, the most significant appearing to be lack of time to learn how to practically implement and use technology. As part of Small Charity Week we are saying start somewhere and don’t do too much at once, as this gives a low-risk way to test and develop new ways of working – test, review, repeat.”

IVAR Director, Ben Cairns said: 

“Funders have the power to give small voluntary organisations the time they need to develop a digital culture that is right for them. We would like to see more trusts and foundations offering long-term core funding to create space for experimentation so charities can work out what ‘tech’ means to them.”

Five tips for SVOs from the research findings

  1. Start somewhere and don’t be disheartened if it goes wrong
  2. Focus on the problem you’re trying to solve
  3. Time-bound tests of the technology and then review
  4. Don’t reinvent the wheel
  5. Embed learning into the day-to-day

Advice from SVOs to other SVOs:

Embrace tech as much as possible  

  • Just go for it and try it out.’
  • ‘Embrace the tech available at the level you want it.’
  • ‘Embrace it as much as you can with the capacity you have’.
  • ‘Don’t fear tech…’

Be strategic, starting with a purpose, and actively managing the introduction of tech

  • ‘Have a good project manager and have a good understanding of full costs.’
  • ‘Just because it’s popular, doesn’t mean it’s right for your service.’ 
  • ‘Don’t do too much at once.’
  • ‘If it doesn’t help the service user access help or use your help, or make services more efficient, what is its purpose?’
  • ‘Spend a lot of time trying to find the right solutions.’
  • ‘Never become wedded to a current process or way of working.’

Allocate adequate resources 

  • ‘It’s important not to underestimate the time and financial implications researching, purchasing and implementing can take.’
  • ‘Budget but be prepared for delays and additional costs.’
  • ‘Give it enough time – tweaking and improving it takes time.’
  • Allocate resources to training staff and implementing tech.’

Seek advice and support 

  • ‘Be open to asking for help and advice.’
  • ‘Get the right advice for your particular service as “one size fits all” does not work.’
  • ‘It’s important to speak to other, similar organisations to obtain help and advice.
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