How Technology Can Make Philanthropic Efforts Stretch Even Further
20 April 2018 at 2:54 pm
Zoë Robinson, chief executive officer of Yfoundations, explores some of the ways organisations can use technology to further their causes and meet growing demand.
Wednesday was Youth Homelessness Matters Day, and as I spoke with some of the services that assist young people experiencing homelessness, it was clear that the needs are much greater than the support that is available.
There is no doubt that philanthropic organisations are working harder than ever before, with limited resources. And where previous generations would have had more sweat equity available to them, today we need to make every dollar work harder to compensate.
One way to address the complexities and enormity of the challenges we face, is incorporating technology into our solutions. For example, technology is helping connect young Australians at risk of homelessness with the help they need, in a language and channel they understand. And clever apps are enabling services to help the many as opposed to only those young people they are able to physically interact with.
Research by the University of Sydney discovered that nearly 80 per cent of people who are homeless have access to a smartphone. Whilst this may sound surprising, it highlights mobile as an essential means of connecting people with the resources they need to survive – including housing, meals, health services, counselling, legal help, addiction help and a whole lot more.
Here are some of the ways that your organisation can use technology to further its cause and meet the growing demand.
Purpose-built apps and responsive websites
If you consider the greatest challenges you face in being able to help more people, it is highly likely than an app or website can increase your effectiveness in overcoming those challenges. Such as, communicating with the people you help, recording data, providing information 24/7, connecting people to additional support services, chatting to clients who cannot talk on the phone, overcoming language barriers, increasing your geographic footprint, or showing how-to videos to those who cannot visit you in person. An app is not the only solution, but it will help in some situations – like after hours emergencies and needs.
For example, the Ask Izzy site is a fantastic initiative run by NewsCorp. It’s a free, Australia-wide service for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless to find the services they need, right now and nearby through www.askizzy.org.au.
Use the communication methods used by your clients
There are many reasons why those you are helping cannot or do not use the more common methods of communicating such as by phone, post or in person. And your limited budgets and teams restrict just how many people these traditional forms of communication can reach. So look at some of the other ways your clients are using to communicate within their own communities and meet them there.
For example, many homeless youths communicate with each other on Facebook groups and via WhatsApp, so it makes sense that not for profits should be speaking to their audiences through these same channels.
We don’t always need to reinvent things – we need to listen to what works, utilise it and make it available.
Charities in the UK are starting to use advice bots and chatbots to communicate with their audience. Some of this is automated, and some of this is done with a real person at the other end who answers questions and gives helpful information. You might not be able to answer the phone at 1am, but a chatbot can share information that’s immediately required in the interim. You may not have a physical presence in a regional town, but your chatbot can be everywhere at once.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems are essential for people-facing causes and provide an essential, well-organised and accessible system for housing contact details. This can go further than a database of phone numbers, addresses and emails – it can record activity relating to each contact, allow you to sort through and find people, and even analyse your reach (for example, which locations have received the most phone calls, or which age group uses your services most frequently). Some systems even include automated communications so you’re sending a follow up email a certain number of days after receiving a visit, for example.
Technology is a gift to charitable organisations, and there is a significant opportunity for tech players to lend their skills to a sector that needs it to continue to do even more with the little they have. What we need is access to people who know technology and can help the sector engage with, utilise and develop technology that will support and aid young people and services.
About the author: Zoë Robinson is the CEO of Yfoundations, the peak body for youth homelessness in NSW. She is also on the board of MyFoundations (Housing Provider) and Homelessness Australia (National Homelessness Peak), and chair of the National Youth Coalition for Housing (defunded national peak).