"What a cautious lot charities are when it comes to IT!" So said a survey of the sector in 2007, which spoke to 285 organisations before concluding: "There is very little indication of any vision amongst IT directors about the ways in which IT could empower people and services, save money or cut costs."
But looking at the challenges faced by charities – from data duplication, to having to provide a different sort of website experience to working towards long-term, sustainable growth – gives a better insight into this cautiousness.
One of the future trends the survey did notice was the move within charities towards Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) to enable different software applications within a charity to integrate and talk to each other.
In this context, Supporter Relationship Management (SRM) solutions will continue to mature at a rapid pace and the integration of new technologies into SRM solutions will enable charities to reap the full benefits with better reliability, performance and user-friendliness.
So what are the three main challenges for charities?
Firstly, they have a problem with the duplication of data. In the IT survey in 2007, 21 percent of charities said there there was a lot of duplication of data within their organisation; 79 percent said there was some data duplication. But, crucially, all were afflicted with the problem.
Today’s data fragmentation comes about because historically each specialist software application had its own place in the grand scheme of things and has operated independently of the others. To enable charities to have a unified (single) view of their supporters by using composite applications, a good integration strategy is the key. That task done, charities can start to reap the ensuing benefits.
For example, gift aid and sponsorship information captured by and held within different data sources can be displayed and analysed by a single SRM system, thus allowing the charity to identify and react to trends far more effectively.
This is hardly possible at all, and certainly not in anything like a realistic timeframe, with today’s ‘data island’ approach. A sound integration strategy also mitigates againsts one of the risks identified by the Charity Commission (the regulator for charities in England and Wales).
This risk is "Information Technology – Failure to innovate or update systems" as each one can be upgraded as the functional needs of that department change, without the need for a massive overhaul of all integration points.
Making the most from websites
The second IT challenge for charities is to provide a differentiated web experience for supporters. For example, charities must not only consider how their website might integrate with their callcentre to provide enhanced, lower-cost supporter service where supporters can be profiled and receive the same high quality, personalised treatment no matter which contact channel they are using; they also have to consider how their website can generate more revenues.