30th March 2020

9 tools to help charities work remotely in the coronavirus lockdown

Alan Martin

Alan Martin

The tools are there and extremely reliable. It’s just taken a crisis for the world to fully embrace them

As someone who hasn’t done the 9-to-5 life in nearly two years, the sudden influx of people on social media discovering the daily remote-work experience has been something to behold. Yes, it does help to properly get dressed of a morning to add a routine to your day (especially if you have a Skype video call planned) and it’s important to take screen breaks for fresh air when you can, but the real productivity gains are made through having the right software.

To ensure your charity is able to hit the ground running as the country fights the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve rounded up some of the best software options for charities that suddenly find their staff scattered around the neighbourhood, rather than neatly arranged in an open-plan office. 

If you’re more worried about donations drying up, then we have some tips for boosting them here, too. But for now, here’s some software to make remote working that bit more seamless. 

Slack

Hopefully, you already use Slack for your office communications – if you do, you’ll find the transition to remote work far easier. If you don’t, why not? Not only is it heavily discounted for charities (and temporarily free in the wake of Covid19), but it’s very good software for office communications in its own right.

Its aim is to replace the inefficiency of email with chat rooms, direct messaging, file transfers, voice calls and more. I first used it back in 2015, and haven’t looked back since…

Whereby

If you need a more dedicated video conferencing solution, then plenty of people swear by Whereby, which also includes screen-sharing software for better collaboration.

While the free tier lets you host meetings with up to four people, the paid options of Whereby are particularly good for larger meetings, with up to 50 people in a single call and the ability to record and download meetings to make sure nothing is missed. It’s a bit pricier though, costing at least $59.99 (~£51) per month. In the past discounts for nonprofits have been available, but the site seems to have gone quiet about them for the moment.

Zoom

If that still sounds a bit pricey for your nonprofit, then you could join the rest of the world in becoming sudden fans of Zoom. One-to-one meetings are free and you can record audio to MP4 or M4A so you don’t miss anything. The free tier also supports meetings of up to 50 people, though these are capped at 40 minutes (which may be a blessing in disguise if it encourages brevity!)

If you need bigger meetings, you’ll need an £11.99-per-month package in order for someone to host – but with just that outlay you unlock the ability to have up to 100 participants on a call as well as other useful features for businesses. 

G Suite for Nonprofits

You probably use Google Docs, Calendar and Gmail in your personal life, but did you know that the enterprise version of these apps – G Suite – is free for nonprofits?  

Yes, it’s only the basic version, but that’s still better than labouring away with the free personal edition. It comes with 30GB of Google Drive cloud storage, and it would normally set you back over £4 per user every month.

Woman working on her laptop from her bed at home

The new normal of remote working. Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

Trello 

If staying on top of tasks and who’s doing what is an issue, then it’s hard to go wrong with Trello. Better still, many charities will find that the free version is perfectly useful for their needs.

With Trello you can assign task cards to employees, and once complete they can be moved onto the next column or reassigned to somebody else. You may have done this in the office with sticky notes, but this is a far neater way of keeping on top of things, and ensuring that no task is left behind.

Mural

If you prefer something less formal than moving virtual cards around, then Mural might be just the thing. It’s essentially a cloud-based whiteboard where you can brainstorm remotely with all your colleagues via words, doodles, videos and photographs.

It works with any device, so you can add a note to the project at any time – be it a photo from your phone camera, or a doodle drawn on iPad via Apple Pencil. 

Sendbird

If your charity involves communication with donors and volunteers as well as your colleagues, then SendBird is worth a look. It’s a chat and messaging SDK and API where both small teams and communities can communicate remotely. 

Used by the likes of Reddit, MeetUp and Yahoo Sports, it’s a great way of maintaining some kind of community spirit in these truly trying times.

Hivebrite

Similarly, Hivebrite isn’t directly for remote workers on your payroll – it’s about the people that keep the lights on: the donors and volunteers. It’s essentially community software, allowing businesses, institutions and nonprofits to engage directly with members via a powerful suite of tools.

It has a whole section dedicated to charity use, if its immediate utility for the third sector isn’t clear. In short, it’s an easy way to connect with volunteers, stay on top of your donor database and to engage with those that care about your cause the most.

Sunshine Conversations

Similarly, if you’re reading this article worrying about just how fragmented doner conversations are becoming, then Sunshine Conversations might be your answer. The premise is simple: unifying all conversations – WhatsApp, Messenger, Twitter, SMS and so on – in one place.

This won’t be necessary for everyone, but for some, it’ll be an absolute Godsend.   

The new normal?

While it’s easy to see enforced remote working as an unnecessary stress at an already stressful time, the infrastructure to support it has never been better, and it’s well worth embracing the technologies now.

When all this blows over, whatever the world ends up looking like, it may well be that the changes made out of necessity today are the new normal tomorrow. With hours saved commuting and less fuel burned, would that really be such a bad thing?  

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