Arms across table

How can charities use tech to help those in need?

The bad and the ugly side of tech seems to hit the news most days, so it’s rare that we see the good that tech is doing.

As a regular volunteer, I have a particularly close connection with the Rugby Foodbank, part of the Trussell Trust Foodbank network. It is a charity that has unfortunately seen a 13% increase in emergency food supplies between 1st April 2017 and 31st March 2018. With the government unveiling its latest £100m strategy to tackle homelessness in the UK, there is now a focus on the long-term solutions for these crises, and tech should be central to this. The work that the Foodbank and homeless charities do cannot be praised enough, but how are these charities using tech to help those in crisis?

Social Media

Social media is an obvious starting point for any charity. Research from Ofcom suggests that 76% of internet users have a social media profile. The boom in social channels such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook has proven useful for charities, and has given them a tool to influence wider audiences and build up communities of supporters. It also allows charities to directly target their fundraising, volunteering and charity news.


The Foodbank has developed an app that allows users to view lists of items which are ‘urgently needed’ at their local food bank. These lists were previously only accessible via newsletters and so weren’t as easily or regularly updated. Those who run Foodbanks say that this has revolutionised the way people support and give to the charity, as they no longer receive huge donations of similar items (canned soup and tinned beans, for example) when supplies of other items are running low.

Apps to help the homeless have also been rolled out across the UK. StreetLink, for example, allows users to alert outreach services about anyone who is sleeping rough. Support can then be provided for these individuals. It is tech such as this that is helping to provide short-term relief for one of the UK’s biggest challenges. In February 2018, StreetLink received over 3,600 alerts in just 24 hours, a record high since its launch in 2012.


The rise in ecommerce is hitting the number of shoppers visiting traditional charity shops, meaning these organisations – just like other retailers – must adapt to remain successful. Launched in 2010, the online platform Give As You Live allows shoppers to donate to their favourite charities at no extra cost. Over 4,000 leading retailers, including the likes of Amazon, John Lewis and ASOS, have signed up, paying Give As You Live a percentage of subscribers’ total purchase price in commission. 50% of this is then passed on to the charity of the shopper’s choice, and the remaining funds are used to support the initiative. Rugby Foodbank, for example, has raised nearly £900 from Give As You Live.

Cambridge City Council is also using shopping and mobile payments trends to support charities, with its two contactless ‘giving points’. These terminals allow people in the region to easily donate money to Cambridge Street Aid, an organisation that is dedicated to improving the quality of life for the people of Cambridge city and county, with their contactless card or smartphone. Since its launch two years ago, Cambridge Street Aid has awarded grants totalling £35,000 to give people the support, employment assistance and accommodation they may need.

Similarly, the Greater Change scheme, backed by Oxford University Innovation and Oxford’s Said Business School, has created wearable barcodes for rough sleepers so the public can give money using their smartphones. These barcodes not only allow donors to give easily, but also ensures donations to go to a restricted fund to help recipients save for long-term goals such as rental deposits. Each homeless person is then assigned a case worker who co-manages their account and can provide necessary support. This is an innovative use of eCommerce trends to help rough sleepers in the long-term and to try to tackle the issue head-on.

As these examples demonstrate, tech is allowing charities to tap into larger target markets and raise money through online trends. A combination of technology and active engagement from the public will allow charities to continue to spread their message and raise awareness, ultimately supporting the greater good.

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