Why charities risk getting left behind in the digital age

Over the past 10 years a digital revolution has been happening all around us. But are some sectors getting left behind?

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Nina Sellars

5th October 2020


Are some sectors getting left behind?

While the entertainment industry has been transformed by the likes of Netflix and Spotify and the retail sector by Amazon, the charity sector has remained fundamentally unchanged for many years. 

Part of the reason for this is that digital transformation can seem like a luxury to charities. Often they are already stretched so thin, both in terms of capacity and financial resources, that the thought of adopting new technology can seem daunting.

This year has been increasingly challenging for the sector, with one in ten charities facing bankruptcy and 60,000 redundancies expected, according to research from Pro Bono Economics. Already more than 5,000 charity workers have been made redundant according to New Philanthropy Capital’s redundancy tracker. 

Charities are also facing huge pressure to make the best use of their limited funds and justify their admin costs. And funders are being called on to review their current grant making processes in an effort to reduce the inefficiencies and waste so often seen in the sector. For example every year UK charities spend £1.1bn on grant applications alone. But research from Brevio and the University of Bath found that 66% of these applications fail. 

So where does the solution lie?

Most charities recognise the organisational efficiencies brought about by new tech. According to the ‘making tech imaginable’ report commissioned by the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR), 64% see tech as a priority. They understand that there is, as one respondent put it, ‘no gain without a little pain’, but many are hesitant. Perhaps they are risk-averse, fear change, or have experienced ‘tech burn out’ where they’ve had bad experiences adopting new tech.

But as other sectors adapt and evolve, the charity sector risks getting left behind. According to the Charity Digital Skills 2020 report, more than half of charities admitted they don’t have a digital strategy and 45% consider themselves ‘poor’ at digital fundraising. Both charities and funders need to embrace digital solutions to work together more efficiently. A recent report from MP Danny Kruger, Levelling up our communities: proposals for a new social covenant, recommends reforms to the use of data and digital technology for civil society. ‘In the 2020s it is time to focus attention on measuring the third pillar of the social and economic system, civil society,’ says Kruger.

If we focus on the charity sector, there are a number of ways we can reform the use of digital technology. For example, applying for grants and reviewing applications could be streamlined through a central, digital platform that saves both parties time and resources. This is exactly what Brevio aims to achieve. Launched in May 2020, Brevio is bringing digital transformation to the charity sector. It’s a solution that uses technology to create less admin and more impact by automating the first steps in grant applications for both charities and funders.

The concept is simple, funders sign up to the platform, describe their fund and set their unique funding criteria. Similarly, charities sign up to the platform, complete an application and describe their funding need, whether it be for core costs, a specific project or for building the capacity of their team. Brevio then matches charity to funder, but only when these criteria match. Both funders and charities still maintain control over where their money goes or which grants they apply for. Brevio is simply the connector, bringing the two parties together in a smarter, digital way. 

Recovery in the digital age

Over the next three years, recovering from the impact of covid-19 will be one of the key challenges charities face. In fact 70% have cited it as their biggest upcoming challenge, according to Blackbaud’s The Status of UK Fundraising report (2020)

With charities worried that the economic situation will result in fewer donations, they are turning to other methods of fundraising. Grants are becoming increasingly more important for their survival, but the time and resources needed to research and apply for multiple grants can be overwhelming. 

Innovative ideas like Brevio seek to reduce this burden and open up the opportunities for funders and charities to find each other in a digital space. Although it may sound daunting, digital transformation is well within their grasp. With a bit of planning and a willingness to embrace new tech, there is no reason why any charity or grant maker, big or small, should be left behind. 


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