There are over 180,000 registered charities in England and Wales and nearly 24,000 registered charities in Scotland. Despite the prominence of many of the larger charities in the UK, most of the services delivered 'on the ground' in our communities are delivered by small and medium-sized local charities. The running and administration of a charity can be challenging and doing it on a shoe-string budget even more so.
Many local companies enjoy a good working relationship with the community and voluntary sector in their area and are often called upon to provide services at a reduced rate or for free in recognition of the additional pressures faced by charities. In the internet age it can be difficult to promote the work of your small or medium-sized charity to national or international companies who have never heard of you or your work and don't have a connection to your region or your client group.
The internet is awash with products and services which promise to revolutionise the way charities work, collect donations, and manage information and the like. As someone who has worked in and volunteered in the charitable sector for over 11 years, I have listed a number of the best 'free to charity' offerings below.
1. Web Hosting
Tsohost is a UK based hosting company which has been providing hosting services for over 11 years. Tsohost provide free website hosting to registered charities in the UK. Their free web hosting includes:
- A choice of Linux or Windows hosting
- Free daily website backups
- 99.9% up-time guarantee
- 10 GB webspace
- A discount on upgraded hosting packages if your needs grow
Comments: Two of the charities I am involved in currently are hosted by Tsohost and have been for around a year. Unlike many other hosts the set-up process is not automatic and does require a member of staff to activate your account. We only waited around 2 hours for the service to be set up. We have contacted technical support a couple of times for assistance on configuring our services to work with their service.Technical support are very quick to reply and I have found them very knowledgeable and friendly. A breath of fresh air!
2. Virtual Phone System
Sipcentric is an internet telephony company which has been providing VOIP services to businesses since 2010. Sipcentric offer a complete virtual telephone system free of charge to registered UK charities. The free service provided to charities includes:
- Up to 5 UK telephone numbers for your charity (£1 p/m for each additional)
- Interactive Voice Menus (e.g. press 1 for admin, 2 for HR)
- Record telephone calls (all calls or select call by call)
- Call queue system which plays a custom greeting and on-hold music to callers
- Call blocking and call barring lets you stay in control of who can call
- Voicemail to email service
- Can use any SIP enabled device or softphone
Comments: As something of a geek I must admit I was tremendously excited to get my hands on the Sipcentric system and boy, It didn't disappoint. Sign up was straightforward and as the company verifies your charitable status and gives you a call to answer any question you have before setting you up.
Traditional VOIP services are ten-a-penny but the Sipcentric service is 'created by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs' and it shows. It may take you a while to set up your system exactly as you require but there is a detailed help and support section which talks you through step by step. The customer service team are very fast to reply to email queries and understand the importance of getting you up and running as quickly as possible. I could write a full review on the Sipcentric service as there really is so much to the service but in the simplest possible terms - your charity signs up, chooses a telephone number, adds extension numbers for staff, choose if you want the system to record calls, choose if you want to queue incoming calls and download the free software to your computer (you don't have to use the provided softphone) and that's it! You receive all of the above services (and more) for free and the only thing your charity pays for is making calls to landline or mobile numbers. Calls between extension numbers is completely free!
3. Exchange email and Office products
Office 365 for not for profits is a free service provided by Microsoft which gives not for profits access to a whole host of Office services including MS Exchange email, Yammer and an Intranet and online file storage system. The plan provided free of charge is called Enterprise E1 and includes:
- Services for an unlimited number of users
- Hosted exchange email service with 50GB storage space per account
- Web conferencing and IM solution
- OneDrive for Business (online file storage)
- Antivirus and spam filtering
- Yammer Enterprise
- Office Online (create and edit Office files online)
- Plus much, much more
Comments: Sign up is very straightforward and quick but setup could be quite complex for basic users. The portfolio of services provided are fantastic and the as the system and services are designed primarily for business they are feature rich and resilient. If you are looking for a scalable, reliable and resilient service then I do recommend you sign up and give it a spin.
4. Donations by text message
- Is free to sign up for and free of any charges to the charity
- Is quick and easy to set up
- Allows supporters to donate using their mobile phone by sending a text
- Customisable with charities choosing a unique code word
- Pays donations received into the charities bank account
Comments: The ability to accept text donations was once the reserve of the larger and more funds rich charities but JustTextGiving changes that. Completely free of all charges to the charity, the service has revolutionised charitable giving and now allows charities to tap into raising funds from the massive mobile phone market in the UK. Simple and easy to setup. Each charity can create a unique keyword which consists of four letters and two digits, e.g. HUFF00. Charities which subscribe to the services offered by JustGiving can create a number of keywords which can be used at the same time and allow charities to allocate keywords for specific campaigns.
5. Donations by debit, credit card and direct debit
Believe.in is a complete online fund-raising platform which gives charities access to a raft of tools to collect donations, sign up and manage fund-raisers and advertise and collect for appeals etc. The believe.in service allows charities to:
- Sign up and use the service without any initial outlay
- Collect donations from debit, credit cards and direct debits
- Accept one-off or regular monthly donations
- Have fund-raisers sign up to raise funds on their behalf through a dedicated page
- Use their own domain name and branding on the site
- Build a relationship with their donors
Comments: First things first, while Believe.in is free of any sign up or membership fees, they do charge a fee to collect the donations (which is standard practice). For larger charities or those receiving a lot of donations you may wish to upgrade to one of their paid plans which reduces the percentage charge from 5% (plus flat card fee) to 3% or 2% depending on the plan chosen. Paid plans incur a monthly charge.
The service offered by Believe.in is a complete fund-raising package and isn't just limited to accepting card payments. The service allows you to customise the experience for your donors and doesn't slap advertising all over the page. Your supporters can raise funds for you by creating their own fund-raising page and with an event and ticketing solution in the pipeline, the service just keeps getting better. Its easy to sign up and the required ID and bank verification can be uploaded into your own dashboard rather than having to post it. We were fully set up in under 5 hours and when I contacted customer service they were very quick to reply and very knowledgeable.
6. CRM software
Benchmark Software provide Cream their popular and fully functional CRM software free of charge for charities and not for profit organisations. The CRM software has been built with the needs of business in mind and is very robust but can be easily customised by using the relevant sections of the system. The free software:
- Is a fully functioning copy of Cream with no trial periods or limits
- Can manage details of your clients, staff, partners etc
- Can keep track of your interactions with your clients, staff etc
- Can generate letters and emails using your clients information via mail merge
- Includes a powerful function which allows you to run custom reports on your data
- Is a very powerful and (once you have tried it) indispensable addition
Comments: The system is very easy to customise and user friendly. There are two versions available, one for a single computer and the other is a network version which enables multiple computers to access the system via a network. It will take you a while to fully understand the full features the system offers but use it wisely and it will completely revolutionise the way your charity works. Take a step towards that paperless office :)
7. Google Ad Grants
Google Ad Grants are provided by Google and allow registered charities to apply for an advertising grant. The advertising grant is an in-kind donation which allows successful charities to create and manage advertising on Google for free. Free advertising is limited to $10,000 per month. Charities awarded a Google Ad Grant:
- Can create and manage free advertising on the Google search engine
- Can fully design an advertising campaign for different key words
- Will receive up to $10,000 free Google advertising each month
Comments: The sign up process is straight forward but does require you to submit details of what your charity does and how the advertising grant will assist you to continue and develop your work. Although Google do receive a large number of applications for funding, the application our charity made was approved within two days. The website traffic and stats do show that the advertising is driving a lot more people to our site and $10,000 advertising for a small charity is a fantastic asset!
The logos featured in the article above are for illustrative purposes only and the property and/or trademarks of their respective owners.
TsoHost and the TsoHost logo is the property of Paragon Internet Group t/a Tsohost
Sipcentric and the Sipcentric logo is the property of Sipcentric Ltd
Office 365 and the Office 365 logo is the property of Microsoft Inc.
JustTextGiving and the JustTextGiving logo is the property of Vodafone and Giving.com Ltd
Believe.in and the Believe.in logo is the property of MadeByBelieve Ltd
Benchmark, Cream and the Benchmark logo is the property of Benchmark Software Ltd