Why your charity might be like a travel agent (or how not to get left behind)

Why your charity might be like a travel agent (or how not to get left behind)

Guest Bloggers | 26 September 2016

We naturally look towards others within the charity sector to gauge how well we’re grappling with digital change. But what if more digital change suddenly hit the industry at great pace? Would your charity be ready? Or would you be left behind?

It’s worth taking a bit of time out to think about how others have been taken by surprise.  Like the good old travel agent. 

I’ve lived in London for 10 years now but I still remember my first trip from Australia.  I wandered down to my local high street travel agent.  They issued me with paper tickets and vouchers.  And off I flew, to my recommended hotel room (which bore very little resemblance to the picture in the brochure), and I set off to explore London armed with my paper map and a travel guide book. 

How times have changed. When was the last time you walked into the local travel agent to book your trip?  Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a place in the travel industry for expert advice.  But in the last couple of decades we’ve seen the rise of booking online (Expedia, Booking.com), the rise of customer recommendation (TripAdvisor), the rise of price comparison (Skyscanner, Trivago), and these days even the way you stay or get around has been revolutionised (think Airbnb or Uber). That’s before you even think about the impact that smartphones and social media have had on how we experience and share our travels. 

That’s a lot of change for your local high street travel agent to grapple with. And for your typical hotel chain. Even for your favourite airline. Traditional companies in the travel industry have had to adjust. Quickly. In order to survive. 

These adjustments are often given the fancy label of ‘digital transformation’. EConsultancy’s recent industry report found that 84% of travel businesses have a digital transformation function(1). In other words, almost everyone is changing in the race to stay competitive. 

I’m new to the charity sector, and the impression I’m getting so far is that charities are making digital changes. But not in a race to survive. At least, not yet. 

If there’s only one thing we learn from the travel industry, it’s that change could hit quickly and fundamentally alter the way we operate. 

And even if the charity sector hasn’t (yet) been turned on its head, donors will come to expect a certain level of digital savviness from all the organisations they interact with. For now they might forgive an outdated approach but that’s unlikely to last much longer. 

It’s not too late to take ‘digital transformation’ seriously. In fact, I would recommend that you do.  

One thing that’s helpful to know early on in the digital transformation journey is that it’s not just about digital. Or technology. A lot of the change is actually about people. When a company starts embracing digital it often results in changes to workplace culture. 

And here’s the best piece of news. Bigger is not necessarily better. In the old world, the largest companies with the biggest budgets performed better. But these days, some of those companies are spending a lot of time and money trying to turn their giant ships around. 

That’s great news for small charities wanting to join the ‘digital transformation’ race. If you can turn your small ship quickly, you might just find yourself ahead.


Kristie Winsen, Digital Content Specialist, Tearfund

Kristie Winsen

Kristie Winsen loves content, content strategy and digital change. She’s spent almost 10 years working in digital during which time she’s seen a lot of change. Kristie is new to the charity sector, having spent the past 8 years working for large travel brands like American Airlines and Expedia.  She is currently working with Christian development agency Tearfund. 


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