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Packaged services help charities focus on what matters

With the continued explosive growth of digital technology, young devices, new software paradigms and emerging integrated IT solutions represent exciting opportunities for charity retailers.

Donations of furniture items – which are often of much higher value than more common donations – can represent an opportunity for a charity to substantially increase its revenue, especially in light of the 25% Gift Aid return available from the government. This return, however, can only be collected if the donor signs a complete Gift Aid form. While most donors are more than happy to do so, many charities struggle to capitalise on the potential Gift Aid returns available simply due to administrative challenges. Enhanced training courses can have impressive results in ameliorating this situation, but additional solutions are emerging from the massive global uptake of tablet technology.

Through tablet devices, drivers responsible for the collection of donated furniture can access databases at the Head Office which as a matter of course will store client data. Through this system, collection drivers can be supplied with ready-to-sign electronic Gift Aid forms. Due to the nature of Gift Aid and the lack of a requirement for a paper signature, completed forms can be logged immediately before the process of paper filing even begins. Paper copies can be generated immediately through the use of already-common compact, portable printers, which also allow drivers using this system to produce duplicate barcodes for attachment to the donated item and associated form, ensuring that all items are clearly associated with their paperwork.

Overall, however, innovations in internet technology may be expected to have the greatest impact at the point of sale. Compact, online devices like handheld scanners – which have been available in Waitrose and other stores for more than a year now – draw attention to a fact as-yet insufficiently exploited in retail: in the UK at least, it is possible to connect any internet-capable device to any other internet-capable device. The implications of this fact have grown with the advent of certain software-based administrative solutions offered by leaders in the area of charity retail services.

And so we come to discover our most credible candidate so far for the till of the future: the always-online EPOS device. Whether these devices are compact and portable or installed at a desk, the implications they have for retail charity may come to change the overall process of hundreds if not thousands of retailers. Administration of Gift Aid systems is becoming increasingly important for the charity retail sector (especially with the extension in the 2015 budget of the Gift Aid Small Donations scheme from a £5000 to an £8000 cap), and the power of networked EPOS devices to connect Head Office with every single store location in the country in real-time immediately eliminates the need for costly decentralized accounting and CRM analytics.

Every new hardware paradigm is accompanied by a new software paradigm, and the solutions which have developed around networked EPOS devices may be of even more interest to charity retailers than the hardware which powers it. A few IT solution providers offer a packaged EPOS-network-based administration and analysis service, effectively eliminating a costly and potentially convoluted necessity of retail by assuming responsibility for all numerical analytics. These services – drawing on the resources of constant feeds from networked EPOS devices – allow providers to offer live-updating CRM analyses, a powerful tool for charities to optimize sale strategies and produce informed projections of their immediate and more distant business future. Some packaged management solutions can also offer stock control handling, integrated card processing and enhanced repeat donor services, and can provide financial interfaces.

The draw of systems such as these is the simplification of the management process; removing sales analysis, financial administration and Gift Aid management from the responsibilities of the retailer and providing solutions which are easy to understand and volunteer-friendly. Some of these simplifying options – for example, the range of solutions provided by charity retail IT specialists BMc Azurri – result directly from collaborations between the providers and the charities they work with. Truly complete as packaged solutions, these options are initially served in a rollout programme which runs all the way from surveying to handover, and is supplemented with an ongoing support programme with continues long after.

In an otherwise convoluted area, increasingly populated with metrics and paperwork, these outsourced and automated professional solutions may provide a chance for charities and the volunteers who make their work possible to step away from the numbers and focus wholeheartedly on their cause.

About the Author

Alastair Petrie is General Manager of BMc Azurri, a company specialising in the provision of Gift Aid systems and IT services for the charity sector. For more information visit www.bmcazurri.com.

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