There seems to be more things to do, and less time and budgets to do it with. So if having to update your organisation's twitter feed, as well as run the monthly newsletter, on top of the rest of your day job is making you sweat, then here's three fast, easy and free ideas that'll save you time and money.

Oh, and don’t forget to leave a comment to tell us how the web, or other technology, has saved you time or money.

Google Docs

Any time you have a document, spreadsheet or presentation that needs to be reviewed by more than just you, Google Docs can save you serious amounts of time and stress.

Instead of e-mailing multiple copies of your file around, and combining changes from different people by hand into a final file, Google Docs creates a shared copy ‘in my butt’. It works as a web service, which means that anyone you give access to can read, edit and comment on your new budget spreadsheet or impact report from anywhere.

stam-googledocs

You can even see changes as they’re typed in, and dozens of people can be reviewing and editing different sections at once. There’s also side-bar chat feature for quick discussions if you’re working on that crucial funding proposal away from the office.

Any changes made are automatically saved as a new ‘version’, so you can review and even roll back to how your document looked an hour ago, or even a month ago.

It opens and saves MS Office documents, but complex formatting sometimes gets lost in translation, so it’s not a complete replacement. If you can get most of your team using Google Docs instead of Office, though, there’s considerable savings to be made.

Cost savings: MS Office costs £20 – £240 per staff member, depending on your eligibility for Microsoft’s complex non-profit discount scheme.

Time savings: Replacing dozens of separate versions and e-mail conversations with one, clean version of your document saves serious amounts of time and frustration. At our office, it takes about 1 hour off a round of revisions of a press release or short report.

Does this sound like the sort of thing that could really benefit your workplace? If so,get in contact with us – we can offer you training, technical support, or just some free advice.

Annual report

bbc-csr-home-8bit

Speaking of difficult reports, one thing every charity or social enterprise needs is a compelling annual impact report. For some organisations, this is their biggest single comms expense of the year with design, printing and postage costs quickly adding up.

Yet if you’ve got a website (with a content management system) and an enewsletter tool, you’ve got everything you need to do it for a fraction of the cost.

Publishing your next report on the web has some big advantages, too. It’s more accessible to people of impaired vision, you can use audio and video clips to bring stories to life, and if anyone wants a print out, they pay for it, not you.

If you really want to get ahead, why wait until the end of the year? If a campaign or service produces impact data or a compelling case study, publish it to your site and grow your annual report over the course of the year. It’ll make it much less stressful when it comes to packaging it into a finished product!

Cost savings: Print and distribution costs can range from £2,500 – £12,500 for the average sized charity. These costs can be completely eliminated by publishing online; that’s a significant saving. If your readers want a printed copy, they simply make one themselves at their expense.

Time savings: Getting a huge document ready for print is a time consuming task, and once it’s been printed, you can’t change or update it easily. Not only that but postage and handling takes time, particularly for tens of thousands of documents. The web can cut all these headaches out.

Taking your annual report online for the first time can be a big step, we know because we’ve helped people like the BBC do it, so if you need some technical help, or just a little free advice, get in touch with us.

 

Information resources

Almost every charity provides support, guidance or research information to its audience. Yet for the most part this process is stuck in the 20th century – stacks of printed leaflets, spiral bound reports or even video DVDs.

If I had a pound for every time I’d read “to get a copy of this resource, or more information, call us or e-mail us your postal address” on a charity website then I’d be a lot less worried about the funding cuts.

Yet this is exactly what happens when you promote resources online instead of putting them online. People ask for copies. Expensive printed copies. That sap your time writing address labels, sealing envelopes and posting them in dribs and drabs throughout the year.

You’re probably sitting on a gold mine of brilliant support information, human interest stories, research information and professional advice. All locked up in paper booklets, in boxes in the stock cupboard.

Content is the currency of the internet, and this is what people will search for on Google. This is the content that’ll build trust and respect amongst your target audience, and provide a helping hand to service users or professionals in need of specialist advice.

All you need to do is place it online, using your website’s CMS, and direct people to the site instead of the leaflets. You may even find the number of e-mails and phone calls decreases as people can access more of the information they need by themselves, saving you time.

By doing this, you not only cut costs, but you can magnify your impact too. That’s the web working at it’s best.

Cost savings: The Driving Standards Agency saves £120,000 just by e-mailing out alerts and update information, compared to printing it!

Time savings: Organising printing can be a pain, and takes designers to create print-ready files. With ecommunications you can do this yourself, and you don’t have to worry about lugging boxes of paper around, and licking envelopes all day.

Taking this step will likely benefit your charity hugely, as suddenly your information is available to thousands across the web who might be searching for it, or on your marketing lists. However, if your content management system and enewsletter tools are a little long in the tooth, it’s going to be an uphill battle. If you need some free advice, or a digital comms refresh, then get in touch today.

But wait, not everyone has Internet access!

Whilst it’s true that some sections of society are more connected than others, we now live in a country where two thirds of the population access the Internet every day or nearly every day.

With over two thirds of UK adults now using the internet daily, or nearly daily, it’s safe to say that for many charities, more of their target audience will be online than not.

Of course it’s important to make sure we don’t inadvertently exclude people just because they can’t afford, or don’t know how, to access the Internet. It most cases, it’s a simple fix.

You can continue to make your online resources available offline by printing smaller quantities, or even printing the word documents and web pages on the office copier for the handful of people that still request them.

Plus, who are we shutting out now? By not taking your information and activities online you’re probably not speaking to the next generation of service users, supporters and professionals. The ‘digital natives’ for whom the internet has always been there, just like the tap and the lightbulb. The people who won’t call to ask you to post them a volunteer application form.

What to do next

If you’re ready to take more of what you do online, or find ways to work better using new tools like Google Docs, then here’s a five point plan to get you started.

  1. Identify costly processes – are certain things taking too much time or costing too much money, dealing with the same enquiry over and over again, or producing thousands of copies of a particular resource?
  2. Assess the potential – Is the target audience for that service online? Is the process that’s involved possible to replicate through a website or web tool? Will it be as effective?
  3. Identify savings – what costs, both in time and money, will there be in converting this to a digital process. This could be adding some new web pages to your site, or putting on some staff workshops for a new online collaboration tool like Google Docs. Will the saving exceed the start cost?
  4. Get the help – by now you should have a good case for making the change. It’s crucial to get buy in from management, so present the facts from points 1 – 3 clearly, taking into account potential objections such as up front cost, retraining and the digital divide. You may need to find an external supplier, or consultant (like us!) to help with trickier or more important changes.
  5. Maintain and support – the best changes tend to need new habits. Schedule regular reviews with stakeholders to check that things are working, that staff have the know how they need to use the tools, and that your work is providing the desired savings.
  6. Evolve and improve – the web offers some great benefits over pen-and-paper or offline processes. For example, could you use video to tell the stories of your impact through the compelling voices of service users for your next annual report? Could you centralise your database of support centres, so anyone can deal with phone enquiries using a Google Docs spreadsheet? The possibilities are limitless.

If you need any help or advice getting started, or improving your use of the web to reach more people, at lower cost, then talk to us. We’re a social enterprise that helps socially motivated organisations make the most of the web.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for more tips and tricks for making the web work for your socially motivated organisation.

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