digital social platform logos

Brave new world

By Cecilie Hestbaek 27 November 2013

While writing this, I’m texting a friend in Denmark using WhatsApp messenger. Before leaving the office, I’ll use the Tube app to check for delays, and when I get home I plan to invite people to a campaign I’ve helped set up on Facebook.

Our attitude to information is changing: we want data to be continuously updated and always available, constantly flicking between numerous open browser tabs, real-life conversations, work documents, and social network sites. We—the under-thirties—vaguely remember a time when factual discussion couldn’t be immediately settled by a quick online search and banking actually required you to leave your house. But we certainly don’t mourn the past; we naturally move on to the next technological platform as it appears, because we want things to be quicker and easier.

Why is it important for charities to discuss the younger generation’s obsession with tablets, instagramming and online social networks? The answer is pretty straightforward: new media devices/channels change the behaviour of charities’ members, volunteers and beneficiaries, and so charities will have to change with them.

As part of our research for the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing, we’re taking the most dominant societal trends and projecting them 10 and 20 years into the future. Technology pops up as an important factor across many areas.

Returning to my generation of restless twenty-somethings, trends indicate that we’ll be more into intensive, short-term commitments than long-running weekly obligations in our work lives and voluntary activities. We’ll expect to be heard, and to be able to share our thoughts and recommendations about services and volunteering experiences with peers in real-time on online social networks. We’ll want charities to be engaged in a continuous dialogue with both volunteers and beneficiaries, and, like companies, to personalise the services they offer by utilising the increasing amount of personal information about us that’s recorded and stored.

In order to engage this new generation of people needed to support charities in carrying out crucial services—including care for our ageing population—charities  may need to rethink their services and volunteering models, and maybe even how they’re governed.

Charities will also have to account for the fact that not everyone’s a part of the digital revolution. In fact, people in most need of help from charities—the socially and economically marginalised, as well as some older people—are often those who aren’t very digitally literate and who will therefore be further excluded if charity services move online.

We’re thinking a lot about the dilemmas, challenges and opportunities posed by technology, and would love to hear from you! How have charities you know of addressed these issues? And while we’re waiting for your comments, I’ll just quickly send a tweet…

(Incidentally, my colleague, Tracey Gyateng, is speaking at today’s Charity Technology conference, which will explore a number of these themes in detail.)