Connecting the charity landscape: part 1 – Connected communities
Part one of a blog series about connecting the charity landscape. First up, connected communities and how these have developed since the Covid-19 pandemic. What are the opportunities for you to connect, and how? What’s your position, and how does this create lasting impact? Read on to find out more, including a list of questions to ask your organisation to make the most of these connections.
Living for the best part of two years under conditions shaped by Covid-19 has heightened and, at times, reshaped our sense of community. During 2020 and early 2021, as the streets, schools and offices emptied, people around the world were physically isolated for weeks at a time, often for the first time in their entire lives.
Yet this enforced pause on face-to-face interaction made us all cherish relationships and realise the value of connecting with other people. As “to Zoom” quickly entered our vocabulary and technology connected team members miles apart, our sense of duty towards local communities also rose and looks set to stay as an important part of our futures. For years, local high street stores had been the second choice behind large, out-of-town supermarkets – somewhere to buy the odd four pints of milk or loaf rather than places to do the main weekly shop. This was reversed by Covid-19 movement restrictions, not only making local shops a vital first port of call but also the place to see other people and hear about what was going on in the area at a time when such interactions had been pared down to just the essentials.
What do we mean by community?
In the modern age, community isn’t just about a shared location. It can now also mean shared values, interests, mutual connections. Community can be defined by the reliance on others and the benefits which are woven into the threads of daily life through a shared interest or purpose.
This sense of purpose and understanding of how you as an individual might help the community has been shown in many other areas of life:
Throughout 2020, local communities flourished as people looked for ways to use their enforced free time during lockdown to help others. This led to a huge mobilisation of volunteers both nationally and globally to assist in an immediate response to the pandemic. Within the charity space itself, lockdown left many eager and energetic fundraisers not only with time on their hands but also out of work indefinitely. While the FFC – Furloughed Fundraiser Chat – was initially set up as self-support group for these workers, it quickly gained over 2,000 active users and became a place for them to share ideas and projects as well as find work.
The impact of technology
Digital technology was used to forge connections that look set to continue. Sometimes this tech was custom-made – the NHS App for example. More often than not, though, the likes of Whatsapp and Facebook were retasked to deal with the ever-changing situation by mobilising local communities or even becoming home-delivery platforms for local shops. And, in the case of the GoodSAM Platform, it was a bit of both, with the system powering the NHS Volunteer responder scheme that taps into 750,000 people across the UK to alert and deploy them when they are the closest person to an incident.
This local application of digital technology will be something to keep a watchful eye on if we are to fully understand what it means to customer brand connections and relationships. We’re already seeing what some experts are dubbing as a post-pandemic ‘donut effect’, with individuals becoming far more comfortable within the one mile (or 15 minute) circle of their ‘local neighbourhood’.
While this has resulted in dramatic decreases in footfall around the centres of some towns and cities, the donut effect has as many positive impacts as negative. Post-pandemic, the nine-to-five workforce that traditionally saw little of their own neighbourhoods other than at weekends have become accustomed to home or hybrid working patterns that make the area that they live the backdrop to their entire lives. By spending more time within their local circle, they have become aware of the issues and organisations that affect their area. By home working online, they have become equally aware of the power of technology to connect like minded people, to share information and to mobilise interested parties.
Platforms such as SnapChat and Facebook have been responding to this local interest by focusing on local businesses, search and advertising capabilities. Similarly, Google TV ads have been promoting local shopping and pushing the need to leave reviews in order to support this most-likely ongoing demand.
We’ve also seen gaming enter the mainstream, with so many mobile games appealing to so many tastes that every smartphone user is now familiar with the game-like functionality that appears in most apps. Previously dull or repetitive chores have been made more entertaining by adding ‘gamification’ elements to them, so that the daily step counter on your health app encourages you to beat yesterday’s record, while charity websites rank your fundraising efforts against others.
Elsewhere, the visual and interactive ‘language’ of video games has been adopted by and incorporated into emerging augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications. Unfamiliar streets can be navigated more easily thanks to AR street views showing routes and landmarks, while Facebook’s 2021 rebranding as Meta marks a move to shift real-world activities and interactions into the wholly computer generated realm of the Metaverse.
Technology in the charity sector
In the charity sector, one recent example of these technologies coming together is the Destination Home app that’s available via musemio.com. Created by the homeless charity Crisis it delivers an experience that’s designed to show junior school students how people become homeless, how it can be addressed and how young people can help. Destination Home can be played on a smartphone or, by using a phone slotted into a simple cardboard headset, can also provide a VR experience.
Such combinations of technology, platforms and innovative applications offer up a digital toolbox of ways to further interact and increase a sense of community both online and in the real world. Micro fundraising, sponsored streams or competitions, increased promotional opportunities, live-streamed events and the application of ‘gamified’ experiences are all ways to connect with friends and community networks. Parenting, faith, fitness, learning, community events and professional ties can all be improved with the addition of one or more of these tools. So what impact could this have on us all?
Making the most of connections
As organisations, we need to understand that we live in an era of constant change and that if we are to thrive and not just survive, we must adapt to change constantly. Part of this involves understanding the significance and importance of this growing sense of connected communities, as well as what place, position and role we have within them.
How does this fusion of grass roots and online community affect your mission and how can you use it to create lasting change in your own communities? What are the opportunities for you to connect, what’s your position, and how does this create lasting impact? Have a look at the questions below and start thinking about what opportunities could look like for your organisation:
Questions to ask yourself and your organisation:
- How are we engaging and representing our communities in how we achieve our mission?
- How might we understand the role of technology in building meaningful connections with our communities?
- What new connections have been made that look set to remain?
- How are communities already using technology to connect to charities and each other?
- How might we ensure we’re not excluding those who might not have access to our technologies?
- What does the future use of digital look like for meeting rising demands for services within our communities?