Digital Transformation: a Vintage Vibes journey

By Heather K
on Mon 13 Sep 2021

Heather King, Vintage Vibes
By Heather King, Vintage Vibes Connection Champion

Digital transformation. A buzzword in the charitable sector since the pandemic hit. But it’s not just a jargon term. It’s a critical process that charities have been embracing in order to remain strong and resilient for every individual to whom they’re connected.

It’s a unique challenge for each organisation, often shaped by funding (both availability and stipulations), governance structures, size, capacity, and crucially, specialist expertise. However, despite being a small partnership project, we’ve learnt that none of the above need stand in the way of digital success.

We hope that in sharing some of our experiences, we can inspire and encourage others in similar situations to keep thinking big.

A digital transformation challenge

Vintage Vibes is all about building genuine and lasting friendships between volunteers and VIPs (Edinburgh’s over 60s). After experiencing a significant increase in demand, we knew our previous methods and processes needed an upgrade. We needed systems that would allow for growth and keep us relevant in a digital world.

Our two key aims were:

1) find an online solution for volunteer communications and training;

2) find a database to centralise all of our data and streamline processes.

Plus, we wanted to ensure that any database solution allowed us to manage ALL of our people – from VIPs and volunteers, to their circles of support, donors, fundraisers, funders, corporates etc. etc. – and ideally help us to streamline some digital communications.

We recognise that there are many sophisticated solutions to specific areas of functionality out there, and fantastic tools for integrating them as desired. However, as a small charity project, we didn’t want to invest in multiple systems each proffering discrete functionality.

So therein lay our particular challenge: how could we capture everything we needed, in as few systems as possible, requiring little to none in-house tech support, and on a reasonable budget?

Looking for digital solutions

A key catalyst in our digital transformation was the award of a Creative Informatics Challenge Project. Through this, we partnered with digital design studio More Yum to build a bespoke volunteer communications and training platform. Fantastic! We now had a superb opportunity to collaborate with the tech sector, live up to our value of “doing things differently”, and be trailblazers in our sector. And all with passionate, creative, values-driven designers.

Incidentally, Volunteer Vibes – our super snazzy one-of-a-kind digital volunteer hub – will be launching very soon. So watch this space!

A database solution proved harder to find, however.

As a charity project, not an independently registered charity, and with integration needs around Volunteer Vibes, we found our requirements to be surprisingly niche. Many recommended Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) systems weren’t suitable (and we’d be delighted to share our findings with others on a CRM journey).

After lengthy research and more demos and conversations than we can remember, it was, in the end, a personal recommendation that directed us towards Makerble. And it turned out to be just what we needed; cue shameless Makerble plug…

Makerble, the Impact CRM, is an affordable and secure solution focused on measuring impact and managing people and relationships; all within an intuitive social-media inspired design. Furthermore, their iterative development approach was a strong selling point for us. Building in functionality in response to client requirements over time is crucial for the all-important ‘evergreen’ digital strategy. We don’t want to invest in systems that are fit for now, we want to invest in solutions that can grow with us into the future, expanding our impact across Edinburgh and beyond.

So, what’s the takeaway here? Talk to lots of people, and don’t give up in your search for the right solution for you.

Digital expertise is at hand

Of course, we all know digital transformation is much more than implementing CRM systems. It encompasses everything from marketing, fundraising and data management, to cyber security, organisational culture, associated tools, and everything in between. Progression like this requires expertise.

The conversations we had in exploring CRMs connected us to initiatives offering free in-depth, specialist knowledge in these areas; a breadth of know-how that many charities on restricted budgets can struggle to provide in-house. This free expertise supported us in advancing multiple strands of our digital activity, and we wouldn’t have been able to progress to the same level without it.

So, here’s a special shout-out and thank you to; the Scottish Tech Army for linking us up with SEO guru Kyle McHatton and GDPR champion Graham Ewing; Digital Candle and our matched marketing expert Ayisatu Emore; SCVO for their Digital Checkup and follow-up support; Third Sector Lab for their resources, blogs and social media shout-out; both SCVO and Third Sector Lab for their collaborative DigiShift sessions; and the BeMoreDigital resources and events by Bobi Robson Digital.

We would highly recommend connecting with these initiatives, resources and people if you’re looking for support in charity digital transformation.

Digital transformation learnings

Our digital journey has only just begun. But our experience to-date has reminded us of something key – it’s all about collaboration.

It’s been inspiring to experience sector colleagues’ willingness to support and advise each other; to find numerous free resources and events; and to see the emergence and continuation of initiatives such as the Scottish Tech Army, pooling expertise on a voluntary basis to support the development and growth of the charitable sector. Such collaboration is pivotal to the survival of charities, especially smaller ones, in a rapidly accelerating digital world.

Moreover, we’ve learnt that it’s not just about finding the right system or technology, but also finding the right ethos and approach to innovation in those you work with. Finding people who understand us and our values, and who were keen to explore with us how our vision could be realised, turned out to be fundamental.

It’s true that every challenge poses an opportunity. And what an exciting opportunity it’s been to out-grow our systems and source new digital solutions to prepare us to be an even bigger and stronger community than ever before.

A personal note to end on…

After an 8-month turned 1-year contract diving into inspirational digital projects, a new adventure in software development is calling. It’s been a real privilege to work with Vintage Vibes on their digital transformation journey over the past year. Every member of our team brings something unique and of great value to the sector, and is highly passionate about building connections with VIPs to tackle loneliness in Edinburgh.

So if you’re considering volunteering, working or collaborating with Vintage Vibes, go for it. They’re fabulous staff and volunteers, championing a fantastic cause. #BeTheDifference

Find out more about volunteering with Vintage Vibes.

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