Galvanise your not-for-profit organisation with an integrated digital infrastructure
10th Dec 2019
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For the charitable organisations that constitute Britain’s £17.1bn third sector, efficiency is the name of the game. There are so many reasons why it’s necessary to cut back or increase revenue – or pursue a programme that mixes the two. In an age where central government funding is being cut, for example, third-sector organisations are often left on the breadline. While the average Brit donates £44 per month to good causes, it’s not nearly enough to meet every charity’s need.
For finance leaders in this world, the solution often lies in shifting away from inefficient processes and towards more efficient, integrated and often digitalised solutions. But how can the sort of organisational culture that supports this kind of development be created? This article will explore this problem and begin to look for some solutions.
Getting volunteers on side
Many third-sector organisations find that volunteers are their lifeblood. Whether the organisation requires unpaid people to supervise events, look after vulnerable community members or something else altogether, having some of Britain’s 20.1 million volunteers on their side can be a godsend. However, a downside to this sort of unofficial, unremunerated relationship is that it can be harder for instructions to be laid down and followed. If a volunteer appears unwilling to accept a new digital system, it may be worth explaining to them that the cost savings to the organisation will go directly towards projects that benefit the community.
More than just the money
Many who work, or are otherwise involved, in the charitable sector often do so because they’re motivated by more than just money. This is great from the point of view of ensuring that the organisation is staffed with passionate people who love what they do – but for a finance director, it can be frustrating to have to repeatedly explain that money is important insofar as it fuels all the good works of the organisation and that unsound financial management could pose an existential threat to the charity.
When implementing a digital infrastructure that saves cash, it may also be worth helping people to see its other functions. Many digital software packages come with accurate data capture functions, for example. Explaining to the fundraising and projects team that this data can later be integrated into their funding bids could help them to see the wider benefits of using it. For charities that work in the field, meanwhile, software packages that include remote timesheet monitoring systems controlled through the use of smartphones could be revolutionary. It could free up time for the field worker, who can then check in with the head office in half the time as before while also saving employee time costs for the charity.
Training is key
There’s no point in buying or leasing an expensive piece of kit just for it to gather digital dust on the proverbial shelf, so it should be a charity finance director’s priority to ensure that staff are trained in how to use it. Funding is often an issue here as charity budgets are often overstretched as it is. Nevertheless, working out the cost of a professional trainer and then the return on investing in it is certainly wise. It may be possible to find a pro bono IT specialist who can provide some training – or, alternatively, the software provider might offer its own training and consultancy services, which the person responsible for implementing the system can then use as well.
Working in the not-for-profit sector can be tough, especially for an FD responsible for the finances and for galvanising others into being proactive about efficiency and integration. However, there are still ways to create a digital-first efficiency culture that won’t break the bank. From ensuring everyone is well trained to getting volunteers, field workers and others on side, it’s definitely possible to achieve this goal – and to enhance your reputation as a cost-savvy third-sector finance director committed to ensuring that organisations remain nimble and sustainable enough to serve the needs of their communities for the long term.