How Digital Transformation is Future Proofing the Third Sector

During the pandemic, many charities went through some form of digital transformation.

At first it was to adapt to a new way of working – a means of survival – but the opportunity this shift presents going forward is huge, and one that will contribute to a more sustainable future for organisations. Whether you’ve already started your digital journey or are about to, charities cannot underestimate the benefits digital transformation can bring them.

Perhaps you didn’t need to change as much as other charities – you may be thinking: “we survived without turning to digital, so why change now?” However, donor behaviour has changed drastically in the past year, and it is expected to continue. We can no longer expect volunteers, donors and customers to revert back to ‘normal’. Times have changed, and it’s vital to stay ahead of the curve. 

What Does Digital Transformation Look Like?

Digital transformation isn’t about being magpies, jumping around to find the shiniest things on which to build. Nor is it just about looking at existing processes and how some form of digital intervention or automation can remove them completely. Digital transformation is about harnessing a digital-first mindset which expands to every single element of the organisation. It is a journey that starts with the sector’s senior leaders embracing this mindset and seeking to embed it across every trustee, employee and volunteer. It’s also about finding tools and processes that complement the organisation, building on what already works and seeking out ways to improve it. 

Great, but what does this look like in practice?

But What Does it Look Like for a Charity?

As I said, digital transformation doesn’t mean looking for the shiniest new toy but understanding how you can future proof and create more sustainable ways of working. Whilst giving is often the lifeblood of the sector, in this instance we should be prioritising the effective delivery of the core activities needed achieve the charity’s mission. One such charity that embraced the power of digital transformation to deliver their core mission was Cats Protection who, as the UK’s largest feline welfare charity, needed to continue to rehome cats during the pandemic.  

When the UK went into lockdown, Cats Protection adoption centres closed to the public but they were still full of cats in need of rehoming. Teams had to keep adoptions moving forward, even though people couldn’t come in to meet the cats or fill in paperwork in person; the concept of Hands-Free Homing was born.

People interested in adopting a cat could look at the listings online, but the organisation needed to make sure the fit was right. Adoption centres started recording videos of the cats and their interactions with staff, sending them to people who expressed an interest. Instead of simply looking at photos online, people could visualise the cat in their homes, with their families and other pets — and avoid surprises that could lead them to return the animal. 

Solving Problems with Digital

It was a solid start, but Cats Protection had to think about the whole adoption experience, from the moment someone enquires about a cat to the moment they take it home. 

This experience included a lot of paperwork – if paperwork was too slow or cumbersome, adoptions would dwindle, keeping cats from finding their forever homes and leaving less room for new rescues. If was felt too mechanical and impersonal, it would remove all the excitement of welcoming a new pet into the family.

Another factor? Adoption centres are managed by a mix of staff and volunteers, many of whom work only one shift per week. The handoff among staff and volunteers had to be seamless. The charity transitioned to using Adobe Sign, working closely with their long-time technology partner Phoenix Software, to enable e-signatures and make it possible to do all the paperwork online instead of sending it back and forth through the post — so cats can get into their forever homes faster. 

Reaping the Benefits

By October 2020, Cats Protection had found homes for more than 9,000 cats, with over 5,000 of those adoptions managed through the Hands-Free Homing process. And the organisation had kept the quality of its matches high, making sure the new owners were a good fit for the cats. Without a digital-first mindset this transition to a new and improved way of working wouldn’t have happened. 

Innovation doesn’t need to be self-driving cars and robots – it can be as simple as making sure your volunteers and employees can share a video or receive a signature online.

How do I get started?

This is your chance to think about what innovation could look like for your organisation – digital transformation doesn’t need to happen all at once, but it does need to start somewhere.

If you’d like to hear more about digital transformation in the third sector and the problems it can solve for your organisation, join our next webinar! Tony Gamble, Head of IT at Cats Protection, will be talking through their digital transformation journey and the benefits they’re seeing – find out more here.

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