SCVO Blog Post Author


Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

Using digital to help tackle soaring demand and surging costs

The combination of rapidly rising demand for services, increasing operational costs, and income decline is a profound and complex challenge for charities. While working digitally is not a magic wand, digital approaches can help organisations be more responsive and effective in these difficult times.

Here are some ways digital can help make the most of your resources.

Respond to user needs

Firstly, the key to doing digital well is understanding and responding to user needs. This is even more critical at times when the context of people’s lives is changing rapidly. For example, people with pre-existing vulnerabilities are now facing really stark choices about how to keep themselves safe, warm and healthy. And people with no previous experience of financial crises may be seeking advice for the first time.

This rapidly-changing context means that assumptions you may have made about the kind of people who need your help may no longer be correct. So you should never assume you know what your users need – you need to keep checking and adapting your services as needed.

Applying service design approaches such as developing user statements and working in intensive design sprints can help with this. You might develop a user needs statement that said ‘As an older person with an unaffordable heating bill, I want to know about indoor social activities near my home that last more than an hour or two’. This kind of user insight might prompt your team to work on ‘How might we gather details about local social activities and make this information easily discoverable by older people?’. Spoiler alert: the best solution might not be digital – it could be something like a leaflet drop or an ad in a local newspaper.

Automate your routine communications

Another key benefit of using digital tools and channels is the ability to cheaply scale and automate. For example, email or text messaging tools can allow you to reach thousands of people as cheaply as contacting a handful of contacts. And automating routine communications such as appointment reminders and feedback requests frees up valuable time. Automated communications and processes will never remove the need to have caring, skilled human responses too. That’s what charities are all about. But when routine communications are happening automatically, your staff will have more capacity to help people with difficult or complex requests.

Gain insights from your data

Thirdly, working well with digital gives you the ability to capture and share real-time data. When your context is changing rapidly, and budgets are tight, real-time data means you can flex and adapt your work very quickly in response to demand. Real-time data also allows you to share important insights and evidence with your board or funders, which could mean you are able to unlock extra funding more quickly.

Using these three approaches can enable your organisation to respond, learn and adapt more quickly.

Find cheaper ways to deliver digital services

In a cost-of-living crisis, many people will be confronted with ‘data poverty’, where they have to think carefully about which websites or digital services they spend their limited data on. One way you can help reduce this challenge is to make sure that your core content is on accessible, low data, mobile-friendly web pages. And good content design will help people get to the information they need without lots of browsing.

Looking at your internal organisational budgets, you may be able to reduce costs too. One key step is to make sure you are making the most of what you already have. For example, both Microsoft Office 365 and Google Workspace include customisable form builders that work very well. Using these could save you paying for a third-party service. You should also make sure that you are taking full advantage of donated and discounted software offers from Charity Digital Exchange or directly from Microsoft or Google.

Finally, check for services that you are not using and cancel subscriptions where you need to. Lots of charities tried out new ways of working during the pandemic, and some organisations may still be paying for services they are not using.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is the national membership organisation for the voluntary sector in Scotland. We offer a free digital check-up and advice service and free digital training to charities.