Sunday, August 20, 2006

Why is the internet important?

The following extract is from the research report "e-charity? An evaluation of the potential of the internet for the UK voluntary sector" by Anthony Gibbs. Copyright 2001 Anthony Gibbs

“The newest innovations, which we label information technologies, have begun to alter the manner in which we do business and create value, often in ways not readily foreseeable even five years ago.”

Alan Greenspan, Chairman US Federal Reserve Board speaking on 6 May 1999 reproduced from ‘The new economy starts here’ (Business 2.0 magazine June 1999)

Alan Greenspan’s remarks were an early trigger in considering the impact of the internet on the voluntary sector as a suitable topic for this evaluation.

This topic was confirmed as an important area for investigation following analysis of the subject using established management tools. This analysis provided justification of the need for this research as well as helping to shape the aims and objectives of this evaluation.

I carried out this analysis myself using SLEPT and SWOT models supported by further data obtained from the Institute of Directors as well as background reading. The complete SLEPT and SWOT analyses are included in "e-charity? An evaluation of the potential of the internet for the UK voluntary sector", with the key points summarised below:

Analysis of influences and drivers on the voluntary sector

When considering the internet, external influences on the voluntary sector were identified using the SLEPT model to highlight Social, Legislative, Economic, Political and Technological issues. A SWOT analysis of the internet (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) highlighted further issues and drivers that confirm the importance of the internet for the voluntary sector.

Social, Legislative, Economic, Political and Technological (SLEPT) analysis

Use of the internet is already widespread throughout society, and increasing, with approximately one in four of the UK population already having internet access. By 2004, a higher proportion of UK population had access to the internet from home than in any other G8 country. At the same time, the total cost of internet access in UK for individuals is now expected to be lower than in any other G8 country.

However, there are concerns that a so-called ‘Digital Divide’ exists between the affluent and poorer members of society (the haves and have-nots). The ‘Digital Divide’ could be an issue for a charity whose potential beneficiaries may not have internet access.

In the private sector the use of internet technology is already enabling companies to provide improvements to customer services. There is in turn a growing expectation that all types of organisation (whether in the private, public or voluntary sector) will have a web site.

By 2004, a higher proportion of business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C) transactions was carried out on e-commerce networks in UK than in any other G8 country.
The internet is also an important political issue. The UK Government is commited to developing an internet culture and infrastructure in the UK as part of its ‘Modernising Government’ agenda. There is a commitment that all dealings with Government will be electronically deliverable by 2008.

The pace of technological change will reinforce the importance of the internet in the future. The advent of interactive digital TV will create a new internet audience in addition to personal computer users. Also, the next generation of mobile phones will further expand internet access.

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis

The internet has a number of strengths. It is the cheapest way of linking computers (and therefore people) around the world. There are few restrictions on available (digital) storage space, and information can be personalised providing an unprecedented matching ability to meet the interests and needs of individuals. The interactivity of the internet is also a unique function.

There are a number of weaknesses associated with the internet although some may be transient rather than permanent or fundamental flaws: Current technology means that the majority of people still need a computer, although rapid inroads are being made to provide internet access through mobile telephones and television.

Changes in access technology may highlight an IT skills and knowledge gap, which may in itself present a barrier to accessing the internet. This is though likely to change as society generally becomes more IT literate.

Importantly within the voluntary sector, charity managers may lack an understanding of the potential uses for the internet with training required to develop the necessary new skills.
There are a number of opportunities including ease of information sharing making use of this technology. Email in particular can improve all-round communication between charities and stakeholders.

The potential applications of the internet are varied and could be relevant to many parts of an organisation, providing cost reductions and process improvements.

A fundamental threat is that without cheap access to the hardware, whether a computer, television or mobile phone, it may not be possible for charity beneficiaries to access the internet. This does not however preclude charities from making use of the internet on an organisational (infrastructure) basis or in relationships with other charities, government and the private sector.

Also of concern is that not all charities may have the resources to make the best use of the potential of the internet. The need for investment in an IT infrastructure that will equip the organisation to realise the potential of the internet may be prohibitive.

There may also be a skills gap resulting in a need for the charity to further invest in staff training and/or recruitment of e-strategists.

To request a copy of the full report, "e-charity? An evaluation of the potential of the internet for the UK voluntary sector" by Anthony Gibbs email

Thursday, August 17, 2006

"e-charity?" research report: Executive Summary

The following extract is from the research report "e-charity? An evaluation of the potential of the internet for the UK voluntary sector" by Anthony Gibbs. Copyright 2001 Anthony Gibbs

e-charity? Executive Summary

The internet offers a number of potential applications to either supplement or replace existing functions. However, as well as considering how to make use of this technology, every charity needs to recognise what it is trying to achieve, and specifically to what extent the internet fits with overall strategy and aims.

Why is it important for charities to undertand the impact and potential of the internet?

A number of drivers are brought out in this evaluation, including the opportunities to improve efficiency and reduce costs, as well as keeping up with the wider integration of the internet throughout society. In particular, as links with government are important to many charities either from a funding perspective or where there is a direct contractual arrangement, it is important to keep in step with the UK government ‘Modernising Government’ agenda that aims to deliver all services electronically by 2008. Individual charities may struggle with this, but NCVO and other infrastructure organisations could provide a leadership role across the voluntary sector.

This research project provides an evaluation of the potential of the internet using a multi-method approach. It is not a technical evaluation.

Seventy four charities were interviewed and a further 577 organisations took part in a survey that includes illustrative examples of what uses are being made of the internet at present in various functional areas and thanks are due to all those organisations who have taken part. These findings are supported by case studies and background research that includes experiences from the private sector in developing an internet strategy.

The key findings of this evaluation are:

• To fully realise the potential of the internet may require a range of separate but complementary strategies to be developed within each functional area of the organisation.
• Almost half the charities with a web site do not have an internet strategy but this does not prevent its use in support of specific activities such as campaigning and service delivery.
• The opportunity for cost reductions through use of the internet (or an intranet) cannot be ignored, but any resulting change to ways of working is likely to impact on staff and culture.
• The potential of online partnerships with other organisations offers opportunities for a wide range of process improvements.
• There are a number of issues and opportunities specific to the use of email. The consideration of email strategies could form part of an wider overall internet strategy.

Although outside the scope of this evaluation, it would be helpful to understand to what extent charity beneficiaries have access to the internet, especially as technological change within the next decade should enable wider access than at present. This further research could possibly be carried out by an independent body for the benefit of the voluntary sector as a whole.

In summary, there is evidence from this evaluation that some of the potential of the internet is already being realised, but there are still many opportunities for charities to explore.

Fundamental issues that could prevent the voluntary sector from being able to utilise the potential of the internet are a lack of investment and commitment to the internet, insufficient understanding, and lack of skills within charities.

The internet is here to stay. An ad hoc approach could be inefficient and costly in the long term. Charities need to reognise the full potential of the internet whilst accepting that it could lead to significant organisational change.

To request a copy of the full report, "e-charity? An evaluation of the potential of the internet for the UK voluntary sector" by Anthony Gibbs email

Sunday, August 13, 2006

10 tips for online success

OK, so you've got a web site and all of your staff and trustees are on email... and?

Without a plan, or strategy, how are you going to achieve online success?

Here are 10 tips or "thought starters" to get you thinking -

1. Prepare an internet strategy (or plan) with realistic objectives and timescales.
2. Domain names: have you registered other internet domains that are similar to the one you're already using? Maybe to have '" as well as your existing might prove useful as part of your plan? Sub-sites or topic specific web sites can enhance your online prescence.
3. Study what other organisations do online - and learn from them! For example, do you maintain an email newsletter database?
4. Review the design of your web site: is it accessible? Is it user friendly? Does it work for you?
5. Ensure your web sites are clear and concise. What are you trying to achieve? Provide information? Get across campaigning messages?
6. Make sure your web site is hosted by a well-established and reliable web service provider.
7. Make sure that you have an internet policy that covers your staff (including the use of email) as well as privacy issues for your beneficiaries and other web site users.
8. Simply creating an online 'shop window' with a web site is not enough. How does your site link to other parts of the organisation?
9. Do you have a separate email strategy such as updating the signature on outgoing emails on a regular basis?
10. Have you thought about how blogs can be used by volunteers, trustees, or beneficiaries to provide feedback on key issues?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Is your charity making the most of the potential of the internet?

At we have started a major programme to support charities of all size to make the most of the internet.

We're not talking about techie stuff here - instead, we're developing straightforward planning tools that will help you make the most of your web site, email, blogs, and the opportunities available to everybody these days online.

Watch this blog for updates and details of new training and planning tools available soon, and in the meantime if there's anything in particular regarding the use of the internet that you'd like to discuss, just post your comments here.

For details of e-charity initiatives contact