The role of the telephone in modern charities
It would be fair to say that with the introduction of the internet, social media and other technologies, the humble phone can often be a somewhat overlooked form of communication. But with the world still reeling from the recent pandemic, what's clear is that it still plays a crucial role in service delivery, fundraising and indeed internal communications.
Phones and fundraising
As stated by the Chartered Institute of Fundraising (CIOF), the recent pandemic led to a huge increase in telephone fundraising by UK charities due to most "normal" fundraising activities being unviable due to social distancing and other restrictions. While we have returned to a form of normality here in the UK at the time of writing, there is still the threat of restrictions being reimposed, and many of us continue to work remotely or from home. It's perhaps no surprise then that the CIOF predicts that specific new ways of working, including the increase in phone-based fundraising, may well be here to stay.
"The pandemic has led to a huge increase in telephone fundraising, and that looks set to stay"
Daniel Fluskey - Head of Policy and External Affairs at the Chartered Institue of Fundraising
However, there are challenges with this shift back to phones, not least the fact that employees and volunteers are often working from their homes, not a central call centre. How can you ensure that they are following the Code of Fundraising Practice requirements, for example, if their supervisor is many miles away? The answer is with a cloud-based VoIP phone system. Effectively, your team can make and receive calls from anywhere, as long as they have an internet connection. As we'll look at later in this guide, the best VoIP phone systems will allow call monitoring, recording and much more, regardless of where a user is.
Service delivery via phone
Another significant effect of the pandemic has been a surge in the number of people using helplines provided by charities and services delivered over the phone rather than in person. For example, the NSPCC reported a 23% increase in calls between April 2020 and March 2021 compared to the previous year, and the mental health charity Mind has seen phone call volumes double! While government-mandated social distancing has come to an end (at least for the time being), a significant proportion of the most vulnerable in society have chosen to continue with the restrictions to protect themselves. That means that these vulnerable individuals, who are likely users of charities services, remain isolated and need remote support via phone or over the internet. Again, the challenge for any charity is providing continuing services over the phone, despite employees and volunteers working from home.
Finally, the other essential role phones can play in a modern charity is connecting staff and allowing effective teamwork. With a significant proportion of the workforce working from home, we must give them the tools they need to perform their roles and contact others in the team. Yes, remote working removes boundaries and allows people to work from anywhere, but it can also leave people feeling isolated or frustrated if they can't perform their role.
VoIP phone systems for charities
So we've explained the increasingly essential role phones are playing for UK charities; let's now look at some of the key features of VoIP, and how they can help charities deliver services, fundraise and keep in touch with staff.
Flexible working - you can work from anywhere.
Perhaps the most significant benefit of most any VoIP phone system is the ability for teams to work from anywhere, well, anywhere with an internet connection, that is. Your employees and volunteers will get the full feature-set of an enterprise-grade phone system, but with the flexibility to work from their chosen location. They won't be tied to a physical desk phone either, as you get the option to make calls using a softphone on your mobile phone or even desktop computer.
Call distribution, forwarding and routing
So your team are comfortable and working from home, but how can you get the right calls to the right teams and individuals? Your VoIP phone system will be packed with features designed to make call handling and distribution a breeze. Much like traditional phone systems, you can set up things like hunt groups, call forwarding and call routing. You can even employ an auto attendant to help callers reach the correct destination the first time. Going back to the first point we made in this section, all of this can be done regardless of where the user is. You could have members of a hunt group living in different countries, and it would matter; when a call comes in, all of their phones will ring. For charities experiencing an increase in inbound calls, the advanced call routing and management options that VoIP brings helps to maximise efficiency and, in turn, minimise costs.
Call recording and monitoring.
Whether you're providing services directly to the public over the phone or just fundraising, the ability to monitor and listen back to calls is essential, especially with the increase in remote working. Fortunately, the best VoIP systems will include this functionality, so you can easily record calls, regardless of where your users are and what device they are using to make the call.
Let's not beat around the bush; saving money is just as crucial for a charity as it is for any of the other small businesses we install phone systems. The great news is that you can get an affordable phone system, that will in all likelihood, reduce your telecoms costs. To give you an example, systems like our Horizon platform include 4000 free minutes per user per month, so for most, there are no call charges to pay at all. Added to this, there's typically little or no setup fees, with everything bundled into the monthly subscription fee. This model of subscribing to a hosted PBX, rather than buying a phone system as you would have in the past, means that you can get all the features you need without significant capital expenditure.
You may have heard that in 2025 BT Openreach will be turning off its PSTN and ISDN networks. That means that all businesses, charities, public bodies, and individuals will need to think about moving to VoIP. Obviously, that's some way off, but it's big and something that all UK based charities should be taking seriously and planning for. The good news is that moving to VoIP has so many benefits over traditional telephony services that doing it sooner rather than later often makes a lot of sense. Importantly, by moving to a cloud-hosted phone system, you'll be future-proofing your charity; it's the latest technology and will be here for the long haul.
"When you choose a VoIP provider, and if you have phone numbers already, be sure to ask whether they can port them across when you switch."
Choosing the right phone system
So you know you need to move to VoIP, and you can see the benefits it will bring, but where do you start? Speak to an independent telephony expert like ourselves. We have over 30 years of experience advising businesses and charities with their telecoms and will help you choose the right phone system for you. Please call us on 01202 854111 or click below to request a quote.
Frequently asked questions
How can we get a quote for a VoIP phone system for our charity?
Call us on 01202 854111, and one of our telephony experts will be happy to assist you. We'll run through what you currently have and what you think you'll need in the future before making bespoke recommendations to you.
Is there a difference between a business VoIP system and a charity phone system?
In practical terms, no, there isn't a difference. You'll be using the same technology, but it's likely that as you're a charity, you'll need to configure it slightly differently from how a business would.
How much does a VoIP phone system cost?
The cost of a cloud-phone system varies depending on your requirements, but as an example, our Horizon platform starts at only £9.95 per user per month. If you need more advanced features, the cost may be higher.
Can our charity get a discount on our phone system?
When you speak to us and explain that you are a charity, not a for-profit business, our team will do everything they can to minimise costs for you.