Promoting digital inclusion in your charity

Promoting digital inclusion in your charity

27th September 2022

By Connect Assist

The digital revolution is transforming life today – but it’s passing some people by. And they’re being cut off from vital services and opportunities. 

So how can your charity benefit from all that digital has to offer, while making sure that nobody’s left behind? 

We’ve put together the following guide, drawing on the Charity Digital Skills Report 2022 and other research, plus our own experience of helping non-profit organisations with digital service delivery.

Read on for our deep dive into the digital divide…

The digital age

In 2022, it can seem like everyone’s faces are being lit up by the glare of their phones. The pandemic accelerated the trend to go digital: even previously tech-averse people learned the ropes so they could order shopping or see their doctor online.

Now, only a small minority of people have no home internet access (97.4% of UK households have internet access, up from 90% five years ago). But the ones who don’t belong to some of the most disadvantaged groups in society: e.g. a quarter of vulnerable children struggle to access devices for home learning. 

And it’s getting harder and harder for these people to participate in society. Bank branches are closing down. Applying for many benefits can now only be done online. Even keeping in touch with family means using messaging and video platforms. 

So if your charity is moving its services online, you need a plan to make sure you’re not leaving anyone behind.

“A digital welfare state is emerging. The impact on the human rights of the most vulnerable in the UK will be immense.” Professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, 2018 

Source: One Digital

Types of digital exclusion:

  • Can’t afford data

  • Can’t afford a device with internet access

  • Low level of digital (or other type of) literacy

  • Disability or impairment makes it hard to use some devices

  • Resistant to using the internet

Source: Catalyst

 

Charity Digital Skills Report 2022

So what’s the current state of play in the charity sector? The Charity Digital Skills Report 2022 reveals that:

  • 24% of charities cite digital inclusion support, devices and data for their community as one of the top three things they need funding to support.

  • For organisations supporting communities experiencing racial inequality, this is the top funding need, cited by 39%.

  • For organisations supporting older people, this is cited by 29%.

  • 21% of charities did provide devices, data or support to enable people to get online – down from 45% in 2021 (during the pandemic).

  • 35% of charities see increasing the diversity of service users as a priority. 

  • 25% of charities do not have diverse teams developing their digital products.

 

Key principles to overcome digital exclusion

Wondering where to start? Catalyst, a network of charity digital experts, has put together these principles you can follow. 

1. Understand your users.

Talk to them! What’s it like to be them? What’s stopping them getting online? Do they have any ideas for how you could help? Don’t forget to road test any solutions with your service users too.

 

2. Use inclusive design.

Sometimes, you’d think that websites were specifically designed to put people off! That’s particularly true when it comes to application forms, which can be confusing or even anxiety inducing for a lot of people. 

At Connect Assist, we’ve used Oracle Customer Service Portal to overhaul certain central government services. The result: it’s now far simpler for people to make applications online, even if their English is limited. 

If your budget doesn’t stretch to a website revamp, how about adding video explainers to back up text?

3. Take your tech to where your users are

The good old library is coming into its own once more as a digital hub. But think more creatively: where does your target audience go, and could you install a device there to access your digital services? Cafes, day care centres, playgroups – think outside the box!

Better still, could you send staff or volunteers there to help people use these devices?

4. Provide alternative non-digital ways to access your services


Yup, sometimes you have to think old-school” You may need to offer postal, in-person, or telephone services alongside your digital ones. After all, once you’ve got people on-board, they’re more likely to take you up on any offer of digital training and support. 

5. Upskill your staff and volunteers

Some 38% of charities cited a lack of digital skills among their workers as a barrier to digital progress. By training your people, they gain the confidence and know-how to pass on their skills to your service users too. 

6. Give or lend people devices

Sometimes, a simple tablet makes all the difference. Assistive technology for people with disabilities can be transformative, too. Or maybe your service users have their own tech, but can’t afford the data?

There are several schemes to support charities wanting to provide their service users with tech: Vodafone, for example, offers SIM cards loaded with 20GB per month for six months. 

Don’t forget that you might need to offer training and support too. Otherwise, that shiny tech will soon be gathering dust. 

Digital champions

Most people who have no home internet access do manage to get online – via a proxy. According to Ofcom figures, 60% have asked a family member or friend to do something online for them in the past year, with shopping being the most common request. 

So it’s a natural next step to develop and train a network of Digital Champions. These don’t need to be tech whizz-kids: just people who are comfortable with devices. They can be staff or volunteers. What’s special is that they offer the human touch that so many digitally excluded people need to give them confidence in going online.

You can even use your digital champions scheme to bring the generations together. In Wales, the Digital Heroes programme is training schoolchildren, scouts and guides and other groups of young people to help their elders get online. 

After all, even those of us who use the internet every day will occasionally ask a young digital native for some help (particularly when we can’t find our glasses to read a mobile phone screen).

The digital revolution in the non-profit sector

So if you need inspiration, who’s doing great work in digital inclusion?

The NHS has been quick to seize the opportunities presented by digital. Telehealth took off during the Covid pandemic, and the NHS wants to ensure that nobody’s excluded. 

The Good Things Foundation offers tech, training, data and much more to support digitally excluded people. 

Age UK’s One Digital programme includes Digital Drop Ins, run by Digital Champions, to get older people online. 

Guide Dogs’ Tech for All scheme offers assistive technology for visually impaired children to use outside school. 

Action Foundation’s digital inclusion programme helps asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants get online. 

Contact Connect Assist today

At Connect Assist, we know how much charities can benefit from the digital revolution. We offer consultancy services and digital service delivery to reach all your target groups. Contact us today to discover more. 


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