Fifty per cent of Canadian charities “aren’t able to keep up” with the pace of technological change, according to a recent Capital One survey, but leaders in the industry say it’s up to charities to evaluate their mandates and figure out how to adapt.

The U.S.-based financial services firm, which released the survey’s results on June 21, consulted with 500 Canadians working in the charity or not-for-profit sector and found that 66 per cent of respondents felt their missions were being “held back, or at a risk” because they were not adapting to new technology, and that 74 per cent felt their long-term success was threatened because of the gap created by the rate of digital transformation in the sector.

Jessica McGraw, corporate social responsibility (CSR) lead at Capital One’s Canadian office, said the company has spent considerable time and effort of its own digitally transforming its operations, and that the survey’s purpose was to find out who else could benefit from its help.

Jessica McGraw

“We know that charities are under a magnifying glass when it comes to spending dollars…in terms of funding and that support from upper management [is important],” she said. “And it seems like technology was absolutely a priority of putting into practice where [the charity] was falling short.”

Based on results of the survey, Capital One Canada ran its first-ever summit on June 18 to “bridge” the gap between the digital transformation haves and have nots, offering advice on “how to maintain the human touch that is still important to charities, but also utilize technology as a tool to help amplify the work that you are already doing.”

Technology needs to meet charity mandate, says Kids Help Phone

Alisa Simon, vice-president of service innovation and chief youth officer at Kids Help Phone, said the summit allowed her charity to give its input on how a large organization has adapted to technology.

Alisa Simon

The Toronto-based charity provides free online and telephone counseling to children and youth across Canada.

Ultimately, it’s up to the charity to review its mandate and its organization to see how technology fits to deliver its services, Simon said.

“None of us need to use technology, or use the latest and greatest tools. It’s not about the shiny new thing, its about how do we ensure we are meeting our mission and are we able to better meet our mission by utilizing technology,” she said, adding that Kids Help Phone has adapted better technology like texting services and social media to cater to its young audience.

“There are expectations,” Simon said. “Our focus is on young people and their health and wellbeing. Technology is critical. It’s not a choice of whether or not we want to utilize technology, its that young people expect us to utilize it, and they expect that they’re going to be able to reach out in whatever ways they want.”

Lack of funds an ‘excuse’: Furniture Bank executive director

Despite the survey numbers, there are some organizations that have made an effort to digitally transform themselves.

For example, Furniture Bank received an Ingenious Award two years ago from industry association ITAC (the Information Technology Association of Canada) for its implementation of the Salesforce platform, which allows the organization to distribute donated furniture to families and individuals in need across the Greater Toronto area.

Dan Kershaw

Dan Kershaw, Furniture Bank’s executive director, said his organization’s transformation was implemented from the top down, and that charities should have more “confidence” to shell out the dollars and invest in technology.

“Our board has been very supportive of implementing changes,” he said. “It starts from the top and making a conscious decision to make those changes.”

When it started in 1998, Furniture Bank only used Microsoft Excel, paper, and folders to manage its financial records and keep track of its stock. Thanks to the Salesforce platform, implemented through the CRM giant’s Salesforce.org arm, the organization has been able to grow exponentially, Kershaw said.

“[Now] that we are more automated… we have reinvested in the platform and made our system have more technology to be able to work on building a national perspective,” he said, though that plan is long-term.

He also added that lack of funding is an “excuse,” and that many other large organizations, including Google and Microsoft, have programs that help smaller charities evolve their technology on a pro-bono basis.

Capital One’s survey was conducted online between March 21 and 28 and had a margin of error plus or minus 4.4 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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