How one small charity is completing an epic digital project

Making digital transformation a reality

Utilising the Reach Volunteering platform enabled Move the Masses to start a project we would have spent years trying to fundraise for.

So many charities have made a switch to online delivery as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and whilst we ran a short-term ’10 minutes of movement’ online programme during lockdown, our projects are about making real life connections, getting outside and feeling the health benefits or fresh air and actual human company.

 

For us, a digital transformation is not about taking our projects and services online, but about finding an effective, affordable solution to manage our growing projects. 

 

Move Mates – our York-based walking buddy project – is now over four times bigger than it was pre-covid. The recruitment, training and management of 187 volunteers and coordinating the pairings of the benficiaries we support is mostly managed by one person here at Move the Masses, one very busy person. We have the support of nine volunteer administrators who each help for one or two hours each week, mainly making monitoring phonecalls to the people we support, as well as registering new folk and checking on on people after their first walks have taken place.

 

We’ve had individuals and groups across the country telling us how much they want a Move Mates project in their area, and we would love nothing more than to make that happen, but a big National project needs the type of infrastructure that we thought was out of reach for our small organisation with income of under £100,000. It needs a robust database, it needs automation of basic tasks and it needs to be scalable. If that isn’t enough, we wanted a front-end for volunteers to engage with the project through a portal, to be more connected with their data and their stats.

 

Dreaming big, we thought that potentially we could afford to employ a developer, to build a system in-house. But with no web development expertise we didn’t know where to start. What skills would they need? How could we recruit the right person with absolutely zero knowledge of coding to assess them?

 

We turned to Reach Volunteering, having used the platform to find our most recent trustee. It’s a platform for people with a minimum of three years’ professional experience to find voluntary opportunities where they can utilise their skills and expertise. We advertised for a Technical Advisor, someone to understand the project, see what we wanted to achieve, and create a brief for the right type of developer. We’d figure out how we would fund it later.

“We need someone who knows their PHP from their Javascript and understands all that technical websitey lingo. We’re looking for someone technical enough to help us create a brief and recruit or contract the right person with the right skills.

It was vague. We weren’t certain we would find someone. But more than one person applied – through Reach – to help. Rob was one such person. After a long project walkthrough, he asked the question, “Do you want this to be evolutionary, or revolutionary?” and he gave a knowing smile when the answer was the latter. Following a bit of reflection time, he decided that he really wanted to be the person to take on our project. Not as an advisor, but as a lead developer.

 

Not only that, but he had some wild idea that we could bring on a team of volunteer junior developers, people who wanted to upskill or change track in theier careers. Then to benefit and support those people, we could bring on volunteer mentors; experienced developers looking to share their skills and pass on knowledge.

“Taking into consideration the pain points with the existing solution and the IT scaleability challenges that would be encountered, as the charity strived to extend its footprint, I considered the project to be ambitious but critical to the mission of the charity.

Furthermore, it quickly became clear that a novel approach to resourcing the project was required, which, if successful, would deliver worthwhile secondary benefits in the form of valuable experience for novice developers and mentors alike.

 

Fast forward three months and we have recruited four junior developers who are being supported by two mentors, with oversight from Rob. Everyone from a new graduate looking to build experience to a refugee whose aim is to use this experience to find their first UK job in the digital sector.

 

Seven outstanding volunteers – all recruited through Reach Volunteering – are busy creating the system we wanted, the system we thought would cost us many thousands of pounds. 

 

We already knew about the power of volunteering, but getting volunteers with this level of expertise and willingness to make use of their own professional experience for a good cause has astounded us.

 

Keep your eyes out for our report on how the project progresses, and meanwhile, if you’re a a charity on a limited budget, definitely check out Reach Volunteering. 

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