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Tech trends all charities and churches need to know about in 2019

A new year is a chance to put fresh wind in the sails of long-held visions. New technology is a fresh breeze, a chance to put a bigger engine under the bonnet of an idea. Opportunities are everywhere this year.

Cutting-edge technology is more accessible to charities and churches than ever. Here we list new tech that could give velocity to a vision already in motion.

Natural language processing

Technology can talk these days. And it can (almost) understand humans. It can certainly recognise speech - we call it natural language processing (NLP). It’s another chance for churches and charities to have conversations with the world.

Recent leaps forward in the tech are making tools like Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant incredibly useful as well as fun. They aren’t only for tech giants either. The Church of England has written material for Alexa that allows people to interact with the Bible. People are actively using the tech to find a church, explore Christianity and to read daily prayers. All users have to do is tell their device: “Alexa, open the Church of England” to install the skill (app) and begin asking questions. It’s like having a vicar on hand inviting users to “Ask me anything.”

There is an opportunity here for charities and churches to broadcast their message like never before. The limits of NLP technology are still unexplored. Why not be the one to explore them?

Augmented Reality

The word “augment” means to make something greater - to expand, to raise, to multiply. And Augmented Reality (AR) gives visionaries the opportunity to look beyond what has been done before. This technology allows a camera to give you a view of a virtual world, layered over the world you can see.

With portable cameras now in the pocket of every person thanks to the spread of smartphones, AR is accessible anywhere. Oxfam used the technology to create a portal - a virtual view into what their charity is doing around the world -  in 650 of their retail stores. And the Royal British Legion used AR to help users see through the eyes of a soldier in a muddy trench, putting a little more empathy in the world.

Here’s an idea: What if churches used the technology to give passers-by a view of the life inside? Many people admire the beauty of a church’s exterior but never come closer. What if they could simply hold up their phone to view overlaid images of the interior, service details and the work the church does in the community? Augmented Reality could be yet another way to take the church beyond its four walls.

Better data responsibility

GDPR - is it bad news or good news? We’re likely to start seeing GDPR cases brought against companies and charities in 2019. But it doesn’t have to be a threat. It can be an opportunity to create better engagement with those who want to stick around.

You don’t need to worry about losing people. This is a chance to hold fire on any scattergun approaches and redirect resources to inspire those who are invested in your vision. It could mean less unopened emails lying in inboxes and more people becoming committed ambassadors for your cause.

For instance, rather than relying on standard fundraising emails, think about how tech can be used creatively to inspire giving. We worked with Samaritan’s Purse and our friends at VisionTank to launch a virtual shoe box creator so that people can build Christmas shoeboxes online. It’s an example of how technology can work with an idea that already exists to inspire even more people to get involved.

Chatbots and AI

With an increasing number of chatbots - virtual helpers that give automated responses to questions - on the web, there is less expectation for a human response to every question a person has. Chatbots and AI can be useful for reducing the number of times a staff member has to answer, “What time is the morning service on?” They can also answer queries out of hours.

Chatbots and AI don’t have to give boring responses either. Churches and charities can infuse them with their own personality to create interactions that are filled with warmth or humour. If ever technology doesn’t feel personal enough, step back and remember who you are. You can inject that same friendliness and feeling into the tech you are using.

Cloud-based church management systems

These probably aren’t news to you, but cloud-management systems are still snowballing in use. They are on track to become the norm. If you are still juggling rota, event and member data then you should consider switching to an integrated cloud system. We wrote a contacts database for the Church of England to help with contacts management. It connected with other systems in a secure way so it could, for example, embed a searchable directory of their public roles on their website without information needing to be rewritten.

Cloud-based management systems can be used to check young people in and out of events, organise rotas, keep membership details, and so on. It’s a way for you to tighten up your admin so that your team can spend less time trawling spreadsheets or filing papers and more time outworking your organisation’s vision.

The human touch

With all of this said, it’s worth remembering that technology can bring its own downsides. Even if we put all our personality into the technology we use, it is possible for it to feel not-quite human.

Technology isn’t a replacement for interacting with people ‘IRL’ (in real life); it’s an opportunity to guide people towards discovering even more opportunities for connection with one another. As we get creative with technology, let’s keep putting our energies into personal relationships. As we walk out our vision, let’s look for opportunities to walk alongside others.

With the right approach, technology can be another way for people to discover community and build something meaningful together.