Nearly 60% of small charities have zero plans to digitally transform, says CanadaHelps survey

The CanadaHelps 2021 Digital Skills Survey reveals that most small charities in Canada will find it difficult to continue work if they do not improve their digital capabilities.

CanadaHelps is a technology organization and charitable foundation working to increase access to technology for Canadian charities of all sizes. Its survey, conducted in early February, focused on responses from 1,400 charities across Canada. 

The survey’s key findings revealed a low digital skills rate, funding issues for charities, and an overall low digital adoption rate for non-profit organizations.

Graph showing drop in non-profit funds
Charities are lagging in digital adoption and investing in digital technology, with small charities falling the furthest behind. Source: Digital Skills Survey. Click to enlarge.

According to Marina Glogovac, CEO and president of CanadaHelps, advancing technology in this day and age is fundamental for charities to succeed.

“Charities need to successfully adopt technologies to not just survive, but thrive in this crazy expanding digital economy so that they can be effective organizations,” she said.

Charities are a big part of Canada. According to and Statistics Canada, they contribute 8.5 per cent to Canada’s GDP.

But this past year has been challenging for Canadian charities, which rely on in-person events and fundraisers to advocate for their cause, and when the world went digital, charities struggled to adapt effectively.

The biggest challenge lies in the fact that there is not enough funding available for digital transformation for the majority of charities.

Size matters

CanadaHelps’ Giving Report reveals that most charities in Canada are small. Nearly 80 per cent of charities generate less than $500,000 a year in revenue.

Most of this money is put towards the cause behind the charity rather than digital expansion.

Founders and donors want all their money to go directly to the cause, which is a big reason why many choose to donate to smaller, more reliable charities.

“Because of how charities operate, because of the pressure and demands that are put on them by hundreds of donors to spend as little as humanly possible, and preferably nothing on their own operations learning skill set, they find themselves in this situation. They’re really operating on a shoestring,” Glogovac expanded.

For example, charities often have to decide between saving someone from poverty or advancing their digital transformation. Smaller charities hardly have the opportunity to even consider expanding their digital capabilities.

Fifty-eight per cent of charities with less than $100,000 in annual revenue (that’s 50 per cent of all charities) have no plans to integrate digital into everyday activities. According to CanadaHelps’ survey report, this percentage is more than double that of larger charities.  

Can’t transform without people

Another issue that may explain the survey results is that many non-profits have a small staff who may not possess the skills to help the company advance digitally.

For Glogovac, the skill gap is her greatest concern.

The survey reveals that most charities are rating their digital skill level as ‘fair’ or ‘poor.’

The 2021 Giving Report says 90 per cent of Canadian charities are run by a dedicated staff of 10 or less. Also, more than half of charities are staffed by volunteers who may not be qualified or know enough to help out digitally. 

Green Apple Gives provides digital fundraising solutions to organizations, and media manager Wendy Jing understands the staff and skills gap issues non-profits face.

She said even if there are volunteers capable of assisting with technology, some companies do not feel comfortable putting their digital sector in the hands of a volunteer.

Finding digital talent is not easy for non-profits either. It’s a very competitive industry and those with the qualifications are expecting a good salary and often seeking opportunities in Silicon Valley and private enterprises.

Creating clarity out of chaos

A response to the Digital Skills Survey by a small charity with less than $100,000 annual revenue revealed that “many products aimed at charities are too complicated, overpriced, and lack integration with each other.”

Charities looking to expand their digital adoption are usually offered programs meant for larger companies.

There are solutions small charities can use which are simple, not costly and efficient. 

Glogovac said Google has many tools Canadian charities can take advantage of, like Google Analytics for tracking data.

Jing also said Google, Microsoft and TechSoup, a company that provides nonprofits with software and tech support, are also great options for small charities.

Tech Soup provides sessions to ask experts questions and offers courses like “Organizing Your Remote Working Team 101,” “Cybersecurity 101: How to Become a Human Firewall,” “Excel 101 – Learn the Basics,” and many more.

Government support

More than half of respondents say they don’t have enough funding or a platform to tap into new digital capabilities.

She referenced the Digital Main Street program, which the Federal government announced in 2020 to help small businesses in the Greater Toronto Area get online and create websites to sell their products.

The program has now expanded to other parts of Canada.

“I think the government should recognize that charities need help with digital transformation, much like they recognized this to be true for small and medium-sized businesses,” Glogovac indicated.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Samira Balsara
Samira Balsara
Samira is a writer for IT World Canada. She is currently pursuing a journalism degree at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly known as Ryerson) and hopes to become a news anchor or write journalistic profiles. You can email her at [email protected]

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