The latest research from the Covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer reveals big changes in how charities and voluntary sector organisations are using digital technology to work and deliver services due to the pandemic. 81% of organisations surveyed said they have changed the way they use digital technology as a result of the pandemic.
Some improvements in service accessibility
The latest data (July 2021) from ninth monthly Covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer, led by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), Nottingham Trent University and Sheffield Hallam University, shows that changes in how technology is being used have led to some improvements in service accessibility. From this group of almost 350 survey respondents, 45% reported an improved accessibility of their services as result of their online operations while 17% reported reduced accessibility.
New tech to support remote working
Charities and voluntary sector organisations have also had to invest in new technology to adapt to the pandemic. 82% reported the use of digital technology by their staff members to work or volunteer remotely, however only 41% of these organisations were using this digital technology before the pandemic.
Changing skills and new barriers
Respondents to the survey also said that the level of digital skills required by staff and volunteers in their work has increased (73%). Some of the areas where these new skills were required were in teleconferencing such as Microsoft Teams, Skype or Zoom (17%), email communication (9%), online security (9%), and handling online transactions (7%).
The data also reveals the most reported barriers organisations are facing to increasing or improving their use of digital technology are: skills of current staff/volunteers (20%); cost of equipment or software (17%); skills of service users (15%); and, access of service users to equipment (14%).
Increases in charity service demand and paid staff but financial outlook still mixed
Respondents to this month’s survey indicated a mixed financial picture again for charities. 27% of respondents said their finances deteriorated (compared to 28% in June), while 26% saw their finances improve (compared to 27% in June).
The impact of lifting coronavirus restrictions was evident again, with 57% of respondents to the survey reporting they had an increase in demand for services and 9% reporting a fall in demand (same compared to June). 15% of organisations saw a decrease in number of their volunteers during July, compared to 18% in June. 24% of the organisations have reported an increase in the number of their volunteers, compared to 23% in the previous month. Over the last month, 18% reported an increase in paid workforce compared to 9% who saw a decrease.
Anya Martin, research and insight manager at NCVO, said:
“The last year has been a huge challenge for many voluntary organisations, especially those who deliver face-to-face services. For some, it has meant a total closure of operations for almost the entire year, preventing them from delivering their services and from generating income. Others have had to adapt the services they provide to ensure that their staff and people who use their services are safe.
“As always, we’ve seen charities respond creatively to the challenges. Most notably there was a huge uptake in the usage of digital technology – both for frontline service delivery and for back office uses. Many organisations used the crisis as a catalyst to develop better and more efficient services. The past year has been a challenge, but voluntary organisations have risen to it and gained valuable learning and expertise in the process.
“While progress still needs to be made, the data in this month’s report offers promising insights into charities potential future in the digital space, and the opportunities technology can offer for improving service accessibility beyond the pandemic.”
Daniel King, professor of organisational behaviour at Nottingham Trent University and project lead, said:
“The Covid-19 pandemic for many charities and community groups has seen dramatic shifts in the way that they operate, with most undergoing significant levels of digitalisation. Whilst for many this has been challenging, it has also opened up new ways to deliver services, run meetings and develop new ways of working, some of which will be taken up beyond the pandemic. The pandemic has shown some of the possibilities and limitations of digital working and service delivery, but investment is required to really capitalise on these changes if the sector is really able to build on the learning for the last 18 months.”