Interview: Richard Craig

The Charity Technology Trust chief executive tells David Ainsworth how IT can be a strategic tool

Richard Craig
Richard Craig

Many charities still don't have a clear idea what they want to achieve with their IT, according to Richard Craig, chief executive of the Charity Technology Trust.

The trust runs a programme called the Charity Technology Exchange, which allows charities to buy software at a fraction of the normal price, and Craig says many organisations that approach the trust to use that service think only about their immediate needs.

"IT is not seen as a strategic tool," he says. "People just ask for the technology they think is necessary. They don't think about how they could use it to further the goals of their charity."

But Craig says there are signs that things are starting to improve: "More people are coming forward and saying they need to find solutions to problems, rather than that their software needs upgrading. That shows a more sophisticated way of thinking about these things.

"The key is that charities need to link strategy with delivery. You need to work out what you want, and what IT you need to deliver it."

Craig says many voluntary organisations don't realise they have access to cheap technology, such as software available from his own organisation, and a range of pro bono support from both IT companies and professionals.

Many charities also lack the technological know-how necessary to make use of these resources, he adds.

"The people I see who are most successful with their IT have trustee boards that know what they are doing," he says. "Often when you see a charity transform its IT, it's shortly after there's been a change at trustee level. We're seeing more people from the commercial IT sector coming into this sector, both as trustees and employees, and this is improving charities' know-how."

Craig cites fundraising and e-communications as two key areas where charities could benefit from a more strategic assessment of their technological needs.

He says he believes the Payments Council's decision this year to retain cheques might prove unhelpful in the long term because it could prevent some charities from thinking about improving their technology for processing donations.

"The Payments Council has stepped back from phasing out cheques, but sooner or later people's changing habits will mean they get phased out anyway," he says. "If we had taken charge of the process, we would have seen simpler and better methods of donation replacing them. Already, online donations are worth more, cost less to process and are more likely to come with Gift Aid attached. We should try to build on this."

Craig believes that charities are more adept than businesses at using technology to communicate but says there is scope to get further ahead.

"While I have no hard data to support it, my feeling is that charities outperform businesses in e-communications," he says.

"However, a survey we've recently carried out with the Association for Interactive Media and Entertainment found that most charities can still significantly improve their use of social media."

The sector, he says, is not making the most of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to speak to its supporters, nor is it capturing as much data as it should about individuals who support particular causes.

"It used to be that the most important thing about your technology was that it worked," says Craig. "But computer technology is hugely more reliable these days.

"It's easy to build a website and easy to collect donations online. Technology can do so much more for the sector than it's doing today."


2011: Chief executive, Charity Technology Trust
2008: Chief executive, Neos Interactive
2007: Professional services director, CDC Software
2004: Project manager, MVI Technology

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