The digital toolbox that every social venture needs

This is the first of a series of articles aimed at helping you have a digital toolbox – websites or applications that should help your business run more smoothly, freeing up your time to create more social impact. Read on to find out how to figure out what you need.

In this day and age, all organisations should be digital by nature. Whether that organisation is private, public, start-up or well established, “digital” shouldn’t relate to a department or a component of your organisation, a dedicated team or expert; it should be fully integrated in all work streams of your organisation.

The key to getting it right is to begin by thinking about your mission and your strategy and working out what you need from there. Knowing what tools other people are using can be useful, but only if the tools you hear about also help you to optimize different work streams with your organisation. Ultimately, what works for one organisation might not be optimal for yours.

Charities, community business and social enterprises should look to ways that enable them to find the right tools and services themselves. To help in that pursuit, we’ve laid out some practical steps to do so. Finally, in order to get a sense of the tools available out there we’ve listed the most popular and useful ones, addressing the various needs of your organisation.

How to find the digital tools you need

1. Consider your strategic goals

You shouldn’t have a standalone IT or digital strategy – this aspect of your business should be integrated into your overall strategy. Instead, think about your cause first and foremost and only look at IT when you feel you could be doing something more effectively.

The easiest way to make solid progress with IT is to consider the day-to-day problems that hinder your ability to fulfil your mission the most before looking for solutions. If finances are tight and you find yourself racking up high printing costs, this might be your main challenge.

Alternatively, it could be a repetitive, time-consuming administrative task if a lack of time is more of an issue. To work out which problem to tackle first, you need to consider which of these things are actually impacting your cause the most by analysing the way you operate as an organisation.

One huge benefit of technology nowadays is that if you need any conceivable type of solution, the chances are that it already exists

One huge benefit of technology nowadays is that if you need any conceivable type of solution, the chances are that it already exists, as more and more businesses look to develop technology to solve their own issues and sell the result as a product. Furthermore, the majority of new tools and platforms offer ‘freemium’ pricing models, which means you can test their usefulness before committing any money to them.

The only downside is that there are more tools to wade through to find the one that will help you best. Thankfully, there are shortcuts you can take to save yourself time here though.


2.    Choosing the best software

If you don’t already know the type of products and services that are available to help your organisation, your first step should be to search online for solutions to the problem you are trying to solve. Once you know what types of solution are available, you can start looking for reviews and comparisons of solutions available within that area.

The good news is that there are a number of tech-comparison sites using keywords like ‘accounting software’ or ‘CRM’ to find and compare different solutions. Here are just a few of the largest:

• (much smaller but specifically for charities)

The top two in that list are particularly easy to navigate without any tech expertise and include independent reviews. If you use the other platform to choose tools and services, the next step would be to find user reviews. There are hundreds of review sites online and a simple search of the solution and the word ‘review’ should throw up some of the more reputable ones. If you know anyone who’s already using something you’re considering, make sure you ask them about their experiences too.


3.    Judge potential solutions against your core values

It’s important to consider your organisational needs to narrow your list down to a shortlist of no more than 5 options. These could be a need for strong data security or a need for an easy-to-use interface, for instance, depending on your organisation.

You should judge the solutions on your shortlist by their impact on your organisation, cost, difficulty to adopt/use and the risk involved to narrow your list down to just one or two solutions. Before you adopt one, get a few people in the organisation to trial each. That will give you an idea of how easy it is to use in practice, how good the support is and how well it integrates with your other systems, which can be difficult to ascertain just from reviews. Most solutions offer free trial or basic versions so don’t hesitate to try them out.


4.    Make a decision

By this point, you’ll know what features are essential for your organisation, which ones are easiest to use and the cost involved. All that’s left to do is to pick the best one and get started! Remember – improving with IT or jumping on the digital bandwagon should be a transition, not a transformation. Anything you adopt doesn’t need to be perfect, just better than your current situation. 

Tools and solutions: Get started!

Over the next few weeks Pioneers Post will be publishing features which will consider digital tools you might need for different areas of your business. These will include marketing, sales and operational tasks. We'll cover website creation, social media and analytics, customer relationship management (CRM), accounting and cyber security, to name just a few.

We have compiled a list of tools to help you get started and inspire you with the wide array of free or price competitive solutions which have been created with one goal in mind: optimizing business processes. In simpler terms, these should free up time for you to do what matters most: to scale your impact. 

Next in the digital toolbox series: to discover websites where you can get help with your website development and design, click here.

This content is brought to you by RBS Social & Community Capital which exists primarily to support charitable organisations (including, but not restricted to, charities, social enterprises and other organisations run for social impact) by providing finance where they are unable to access sufficient mainstream finance. RBS has a strong heritage supporting community-based businesses.

Photo credit: Kaboom Pics