Charities that understand the role of digital might just make the world a better place

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There might be a collective social angst on the ethics of digital data, however, we need to remember that the best digital experiences, regardless of category, seek to solve genuine problems with a sense of empathy and purpose. Consider the role of charities that understand the power, reach and influence of digital.

Positive behaviour and purpose

Hard hitting, often emotional campaigns and stories continue to generate donations, but the evolving role of digital and mobile channels means that charities can become more about utility and service – often looking to create positive behaviours, more transparency, more awareness and more donations. This behaviour is a step beyond simply driving awareness.

A great example of utility is The Cancer Research UK mobile app which helps improve fitness levels and fundraising throughout the year – using the app tracks your performance and converts running into high street cash vouchers, plus links to Just Giving, donations and goals. It’s great to see a charity combining healthy living with donations – the app tracks swimming, running, cycling and walking. A charity which makes itself an essential part of a consumer’s daily life, benefiting the user beyond appeasing their guilt, has found the correct balance.

Tackling the root cause

Even more exciting is how digital technology can now focus on the root cause of the purpose of a charity, perhaps even creating happier, healthier people.

Entrepreneurs and pioneers from San Francisco to Tokyo are fast turning their attention to how technology can prolong or even ‘hack’ human life spans. It is thought that human lifespan is capped at 120 years and the prevention of serious illness through new technology and experience opportunities can now start to help charities better educate and tackle head-on and at source level, the problems that define them.

The role of technology is evolving to cover the actual diagnosis, treatment or part treatment of problems. Be it asthma sufferers being recommended an app to help with breathing exercises or diabetes sufferers being sent reminders to take their drugs, doctors will soon begin to prescribe an app or a wearable over drugs which may be losing their effectiveness. The emerging field of digital therapeutics or ‘digiceuticals’ is likely to be the next big thing in preventative medicine. By measuring and making the patient and doctor more aware of what is happening it can, for example, help those addicted to drugs move forward and become rehabilitated without the need for a charity to get involved at a more serious stage.

Those who suffer from conditions like migraines, breathing difficulties, arthritis or depression could benefit from these digital alternatives to traditional medicine. Behaviour-based treatments from apps are already reported to be helping with insomnia by presenting visualisation and relaxation techniques at the right time, in the right place.

And then there is the problem of caring for the elderly who are often very lonely and vulnerable. A new ‘Uber for elderly care’ service from a charity like Help the Aged or Age UK could help by connecting supply with demand via a trust network and digital solution to help so many people in a powerful way. Or, take Asthma UK. With Asthma care in the UK at an all-time low, combined with growing air quality concerns in cities and the fact that by tracking their condition and exercising their lungs asthma sufferers can cut medication needs by up to 86%, why don’t they launch an app that helps sufferers on the go?

The advancements in technology gives charities the opportunity to reach new audiences, alter their stereotype and source work to help them tackle their cause with ease. However, we can now go a step further and use technology to prevent people having to 'seek charity' at all.

Brands are starting to take note but it’s still early days. Competing with the deeper pockets of pharmaceutical and medical companies, it'll be interesting to see how this trend plays out through brave, focused solutions that tackle the root cause, hopefully with partnerships creating mutual benefits.

The opportunities are self-evident for measurement and for digital to boost awareness, traffic and donations, and this will naturally inform marketing plans. However, to see charities create solutions in digital that tackle the source of the problem will be big news in the coming years, and I’m excited to see what will happen as digital starts to make the world a better place for everyone.

David Skerrett is chief strategy officer at Nimbletank.

This article was originally published in the charity issue of The Drum Network magazine series. You can purchase your copy here.

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