How Automation Can Empower Charities to Deliver a 21st Century Service

At a recent industry event, I spoke to representatives of several charities and the topic of automation came up a few times.

In each case, the charity looked at automation as something which was coming down the line, but wouldn’t be relevant for a few more years at least. Hardly anyone was embarking on an automation projects that was transforming their day-to-day work processes.

For one school of thought, this comparative lack of activity in what remains quite a cash-strapped sector isn’t hugely surprising, but on the flip side the potential of Robotic Process Automation is huge in unlocking time, resource and funding for a wide range of charities and not-for-profits. Charity is not the only sector where there is a lack of digital maturity, but in increasingly testing times for not-for-profits, it’s important to consider some of the key ways in which automation can empower them to deliver a truly modern service.

Unlocking trapped funds

Unfortunately, many Not-for-Profits don’t have the ability to easily integrate platforms like Just Giving and Virgin Money with their internal systems, even though such platforms play a large role in making charitable giving something easily accessible to the public – giving with just a couple of clicks. And for others, claiming Gift Aid from HMRC is a time-consuming and data-intensive exercise, putting resources under undue pressure. Large organizations put their admin teams on it when they could be doing something else, and smaller charities simply buckle to the administrative pressure.

When human intervention is needed to manually input data from one system to another, the ‘creep’ of human error can end up eroding the full value of the fundraising efforts.

Robotic Process Automation can alleviate this monotonous work from existing staff and ensure 100% accurate data entry. With the help of automated colleagues, I’ve seen Not-for-Profit organizations be able to recruit four or five extra public fundraisers in a week.  And these new recruits could generate between £10,000 and £60,000 between them and provide a fast and significant return on investment.

For a complex but important process like reclaiming Gift Aid, RPA can be set up to access all of the personal details required by HMRC from multiple systems if necessary – title, full name, address details, event and donation. At machine speed, the process becomes a lot quicker and less painful, again reducing costs along the way.

Engaging employees

Employees in any sector that see their time and brainpower taken up by tasks like repetitive data entry are at risk of losing some of the passion which took them into their career in the first place. For those in the charity sector, automation can allow them to spend more time raising awareness of the charity’s fundamental causes and building a loyal following of engaged donors.

For example, onboarding volunteers for both large and small Not for Profit organizations is a significant time and cost factor. Say somebody enquires about a volunteer role; following on from that the candidate is either asked to take part, or rejected for one reason or another. If successful, the HR manager will need to start the onboarding process. This includes but is not limited to; police checks, login details, IT onboarding, payment system set up, HR system data entry, rights to work checks, day one introduction and more.

Instead of heaping work like this on the HR team, RPA can be activated to perform each step of such a task, utilizing a mix of technology from Natural Language Processing (NLP) to Intelligent Optical Character Recognition (iOCR), to read, write and communicate with the volunteer through every step of the process. The result is a volunteer onboarded without error and with full checks in place, while the HR team didn’t have to tear their hair out over IT onboarding.

Humans have much greater capacity than bots in undertaking value-enhancing activities, and even enable re-shaping of the wider charity strategy.

In conclusion… RPA enables smarter strategy

Weston Charity Awards recently carried out a survey of charities and not-for-profits which turned up some worrying results. It found that three out of five small and medium-sized charities didn’t feel they had the digital strategy skills required to stay at the top of their industry over the next five years.

So it’s the innovative digital trends such as RPA and AI, not to mention services like chatbots, which can encourage a charity to work smarter. By reducing lengthy administrative processes, and providing analytics to support decision-making and future planning, this helps charities reshape more easily – delivering a more agile organisation that is in better shape to introduce innovations, and retain and attract donors.

About the Author

Oliver Cook, Automation Consultant, human+. I am an experienced government digital professional, committed to delivering innovative, high quality, user focused digital products and services. I have more than ten years’ work experience across the public sector at all levels of government where I have regularly developed user stories and acceptance criteria and managed backlogs. I have working knowledge of Agile techniques, including in Scrum and Kanban. I have also worked across a variety of disciplines, such as user research, design and data analytics to craft and deliver products. 

Featured image: ©OlVic