Bridging the Digital Gap: Helping Charities’ COVID-19 Response, Recovery and Resilience

Vinay Nair
26 May 2020

As the world moved into lockdown earlier this year, we seemed to experience ten years of digital acceleration across the charity sector in ten days. Engaging (online) with supporters, raising (emergency) funds, delivering services (remotely) – under increasingly difficult circumstances, charities are needed more than ever to help those who need it more than ever.

The backdrop has been extremely challenging – the U.S. National Council of Nonprofits points to falling private and corporate donations that are forcing programs to shut, despite many nonprofits being at the frontline of the crisis. Here in the UK, despite some welcomed government funding programmes, charities still face more than a £3bn gap to the core £4bn deficit estimated by the NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations) as a result of the crisis.

To navigate our way through this, we know technology has a vital role to play. For many years at Lightful, we have passionately believed that those doing the greatest good deserve the best technology.

Announcing today: the COVID-19 Response Bridge cohort

That is why we are very proud today to launch a new COVID-19 cohort of our BRIDGE programme, thanks to the support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In partnership with GlobalGiving, we have selected over 100 charities to unleash the power of digital tools that will help to raise more awareness and funds for their vital work.

Demand for the programme was remarkable. We were over 5 times oversubscribed in just a few days.

The organisations are all small and medium-sized nonprofits on GlobalGiving’s platform. They come from 22 countries (see map below) and right across the spectrum of cause areas – from Health to Climate Change, Democracy and Governance, Economic Development, Education, Women and Girls, and more.

Applicants for the COVID-19 cohort spanned from those saying they were curious, with some digital basics in place, such as social media, to those who said digital is embedded in everything they do.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 71% were somewhere in the middle: either starting out with digital or those with an organisational strategy that includes digital.

58% of participating charities are, incredibly, directly responding to the coronavirus crisis.

A previous pilot of the BRIDGE programme with over 100 nonprofits, which was tracked versus a control group, found that:

  • Participants attending at least one webinar raised 44% more funds than those who attended none
  • Those attending three or more webinars grew their social audiences 3 times faster than those who attended none
  • Participant confidence increased by 25%

To Learn and To Do

BRIDGE stands for Building Resilience in Digital Growth and Engagement.

The BRIDGE programme helps charities learn about digital engagement and put those skills into practice. We have been delivering the 12-month programme for several years. Using our leading e-learning and social storytelling platforms, charities work through a curriculum of online learning and training which they then put into practice. The programme can be accessed at their own pace, combined with digital drop-ins and cohort-specific masterclasses from global experts, including renowned nonprofit master trainer and Lightful senior advisor, Beth Kanter. With dedicated one-to-one support from a Lightful relationship manager, charities put the best practice they learn to effectively use straight away.

The curriculum includes three phases to respond to the coronavirus crisis:

  • Response, for those nonprofits running emergency digital fundraising campaigns
  • Recovery, with Covid-19 specific content to maintain productivity, motivation and promote good mental health
  • Resilience, a twelve-month program on storytelling, fundraising, insight and analytics.

Building Resilience through Digital

We have run other BRIDGE programmes with partners like Comic Relief, the UK Government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Homeless Link and the London Housing Foundation, which has helped hundreds of charities, nonprofits and social enterprises in over 40 countries around the world raise more awareness and funds. One of the most powerful aspects of the programme has been how charities support each other within their cohorts, build up confidence as well as greater competence, and encourage one another to do even more.

Engaging meaningfully with supporters and digitally raising more unrestricted income will be more important than ever for the sector. Campaigns like #EveryDayCounts, #NeverMoreNeeded and #GivingTuesdayNow remind us of the need to protect the vital work that charities are doing.

We will launch another COVID-19 cohort with GlobalGiving in July, with thanks again to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and will share learnings, data and insights in a rapidly evolving environment.

An old proverb tells us that the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago; and that the second-best time is now.

Given the scale of challenges we face, we need to move rapidly to support charities whose services are in greater demand than ever before.

At Lightful, we are driven by this sense of urgency; to enable increased confidence and skills, create greater resilience through digital, and support charities to raise more awareness and funds that can help to build a more equitable world that we must see emerge from this crisis.

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