What is Open Charity?

What is Open Charity

A bit of history

Open Charity began as a conversation between several digital types from some of the largest charities in the UK, and their suppliers, who were all building websites using Drupal as a common Open Source digital platform and CMS. We wanted to share knowledge and tips about how to improve our sites and solve some of the technical challenges we were facing.

From this very practical aim we branched into a broader exploration of other open source technologies, and decided to open up the discussion to the wider community. and operate on more levels. This was back in 2014, and you can check out this Manifesto blog for a write-up of one of our earliest events.

Rolling with the times

Since then, the pace of digital development in the third sector has accelerated to the point where it’s not just the large organisations with established tech teams that are interested in digital and open source. Many small- to medium-sized charities, and many larger but more traditional organisations, are undergoing various stages of ‘digital transformation’; almost all of them have websites, and some are even building exciting digital products and services that help better deliver their mission.

The digital world now demands we reach out to people in more ways online to keep track of how they use it and to stay relevant and engaging in a noisy world of limited attention spans with more intelligent communications and content from understanding them better. Naturally this also means making it all easier and more accessible to use for all abilities.

This presents a fantastic opportunity to learn from each other as we forge ahead into the brave new world of apps, chatbots and vast data systems. Many charities’ goals are similar, as is the functionality we require, so it would be crazy for us all to reinvent the wheel each time we wanted to build something.

Our vision and mission

Open and transparent sharing of information, data and/or code is the central pillar of the open source community. It acts as an inspiration we can extend to other areas of organisational or problem solving approaches (have a look at this (Creative Commons) article on the Open Organisation as an example. And it’s all the more important - and useful! - to foster a culture of sharing and reuse in a sector that is trying to deliver the most impact with minimal resource.

Our vision is for charities to have a greater impact in what they do, by working together to bring digitally driven efficiencies and capabilities to the sector and improving the online experience for our users.

Our mission is to encourage charities and their partners to collaborate and share digital solutions and ideas, which in turn create value for the whole community.

By working together, driving shared areas of interest and influencing open source developments, we can make a bigger difference.

The challenge

Unfortunately we’re still a quite a long way off this, and currently little shared working takes place (despite it being talked about a lot!). Charities have a very mixed understanding of what ‘open source’ means, especially in a software sense, let alone the benefits it can bring, and how to practically go about doing it. This makes it more difficult trickier to work with some suppliers, or create digital strategies that takes full advantage of the free resources out there.

While a handful of people in the sector are die-hard advocates and regularly use and contribute to collaborative codebases, others aren’t quite sure what it will require or perhaps wouldn’t ever come into contact with a codebase, so don’t see how it’s relevant to them. There are many myths and misconceptions about open source that we’d like to help dispel. At our event last October, we explored some of these questions in detail, and there was clearly appetite for more.

So rather than be a forum just for people who are already convinced of the value of applying an open philosophy to their work, we want to encourage more people to join this group who are perhaps not quite so experienced, but who are, let’s say, ‘open curious’. Creating and engaging a more informed community audience serves to broaden the base.

We’d like to make Open Charity accessible to everyone, wherever you are on your digital journey. Because even when you’re part of an established digital team, if you’re still the lone voice calling for a more open approach it can be quite isolating. We want to create and empower a community of more advocates who can help drive change.

You are welcome in this group whether you’re a charity, techie or service provider, or any combination of roles, wearing many hats. Whether you’re here to learn, hone or share your knowledge, meet collaborators or just hang out with some interesting people.

Our events

We’re planning to hold around three to-four events each year, which will each look at different aspects of ‘open charities’. We’ll aim to have a mix of content –- either within each event or across the year’s programme –- that appeals to everyone in the group.

For the time being, you can find and sign up to these events on our Meetup page. Through our events, we hope to:

  • Demystify open source
  • Raise Spread awareness of open source principles and values
  • Share open solutions, ideas and lessons
  • Profile examples that demonstrate the practical benefits to charities
  • Encourage more charities to apply an open philosophy to their work (in digital and beyond)
  • Build a community of advocates for the open approach.

Each of our events will begin and end with a networking session, because we know how valuable it can be to troubleshoot a problem with someone first-hand, or connect with people at other organisations. We’ll also have time for lightning talks, which is your opportunity to ask for help on specific problems or promote something you’re working on.

Collaborative tools

Aside from the events, we also have a Slack group and a Wiki to discuss and share tools, challenges and learnings with each other. We also have a Facebook Page and Twitter handle that promotes our latest events, and which can act as another discussion forum if people prefer that to Slack.

We’re just testing demand at this stage so it’s very early days, but we look forward to any feedback you may have on how to make these channels more useful.

Final thoughts

Some things remain unchanged. Many of us might or might not are still have Drupal websites, though they may be a version or two newer than back in 2014 and covering more digital channels. And our ethos of openly sharing our ideas, successes and lessons remains as strong as ever. We’re excited that we’ve now come a bit closer to defining exactly what we hope to achieve with this group, and making it as inclusive as possible.

We hope you’ll join us as we grow and develop the Open Charity community, and look forward to your thoughts and contributions along the way.