Digital for charities in a post-digital world

We live in a post-digital world. We’ve been heading that way since the term was first used over ten years ago, but following the digital reality we all lived through last year and are living through today, we can well and truly say that today we are living in a post-digital world. And charities are too.

To say our world and lives are post-digital is not to imply digital is over, that it is to be replaced with something else, but instead it means that digital is now so embedded and intertwined into our lives that it ceases to be extraordinary. Digital is just expected now. We don’t meet or call, we Zoom or Whatsapp. We don’t go to the bank to withdraw cash, we pay with NFC-enabled smart phones. If we want to know something we google it without a second thought. If ‘digital’ is “Applying the culture, processes, business models & technologies of the internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations.”, then perhaps post-digital is recognising that those expectations aren’t considered raised anymore, they just the usual experience.

What does this mean for charities? It creates even more impetus for charities to digitise in order to keep pace with the rest of a digitised society. The design of that new website isn’t going to impress anyone, even less so if the systems and processes behind it don’t meet basic user needs. Having live chat doesn’t help if it can’t be used to access the same support that is available by phone.

As technology sinks further into the background of experience, and the online/offline distinction disappears, the everyday expectation of charities will be that their services and products are user-focused: simple, easy to use, solving a problem for people, safe, secure & private, and continuously improving.

For charities, at a time when many are stretched and squeezed, the added pressure of having to digitise to meet the everyday expectations may seem like an impossible task. But it doesn’t have to. Digital doesn’t have to mean new technology infrastructure, new websites, more systems. Start with digital thinking. Understand what it really means to be operating in a digital society. For example, artificial intelligence is more and more a part of our lives, but for charities keeping pace doesn’t mean implementing AI, it means thinking about how AI might affect beneficiaries and then how the charity could counter those affects. In a post-digital world, where digital experience and interaction is everyday, digital thinking is essential.

Other stuff to read about post-digital

Weeknotes #233

This week I did:


Team scoped an MVP aligned with organisational objectives and funding obligations, confirmed technical feasibility, designed wireframes and got stakeholder approval in two weeks. Absolutely awesome people! Next we move into deep levels of definition and get set up for development.

Lessons from managing products in charities

I had an idea about creating a ten-part automated email campaign based on some of the things I’ve learned from developing products in charities. I don’t know why they couldn’t just be blog posts other than because I like experimenting with different media. I started making notes and figuring out the structure the emails would have. I don’t know how I’m going to get the time to finish them but I guess there’s no rush.

Digital creativity and new media

Although I didn’t attend the lecture (work call. Priorities, you know) I already think it’s a really interesting topic. I’m going to cathc up on the lecture, get into the reading and start thinking about the assignment ‘Does digital creativity differ from non-digital creativity? Develop a critical argument and illustrate with examples’.

It also turns out that the lecturer for this module is my dissertation supervisor so I’d better be on my best behaviour.

I read/watched:

Not-for-profit vs For-impact

I watched Simon Sinek’s video ‘Stop Calling Yourself a Not-for-Profit‘. He suggests using the term ‘For-impact’ to describe the kinds of organisation that refer to themselves as not-for-profit to focus on what they do rather than what they don’t do. It’s a fair point, if not particularly original.

Hwang and Powell said, “In recent decades, the nonprofit sector has evolved from informal activities of charitable do-gooders to highly formalized endeavors by enterprising individuals. In such areas as health care, higher education, social services, and the arts, nonprofits are major service providers.”. In this sense “Nonprofit” is professional term used to convey credibility and influence society, almost a badge of honour and a moral stance. ‘For-impact’ might seem more appropriate from Sinek’s ‘start with why’ point of view but in fact the sector is more complex than can be understood by a single axis or characteristic of not aiming to make a profit.

Morris talks about how “Institutions which are neither statutory, nor profit maximising, have been collectively and variously called the voluntary, third, non-profit, or more recently, civil society, sector.” and looks at the definition of the sector from a range of perspectives including the types of goods and services the sector provides and “the positive externalities that they create for society”.

Pallotta suggest calling it the Humanity Sector. His arguments against the other terms aside, he says, “What brings us to this work is our humanity. And what makes the work happen is the generosity of countless people from all socioeconomic levels, who make donations out of their humanity. Moreover, it is for humanity that all of this effort is undertaken. To call it by another name is at best to miss the point, and at worst to betray it.”

Clearly the reason no one can agree on what to call the sector is that no one can agree on what axis to analyse organisations in the sector.

Last Year in the Creator Economy

“Collectively, Gumroad creators earned $142 million in 2020, up 94% from 2019. This post discusses the forces that shaped Gumroad’s role in the creator economy in 2020 and will direct it going forward, as well as what you can do, today, to become a bigger part of it yourself.” This is so much more useful than obscure tweets that attempt to present themselves as insight.

Digital economy report 2019

“The digital revolution has transformed our lives and societies with unprecedented speed and scale, delivering immense opportunities as well as daunting challenges. New technologies can make significant contributions to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals, but we cannot take positive outcomes for granted. We must urgently improve international cooperation if we are to achieve the full social and economic potential of digital technology, while avoiding unintended consequences.”

And thought about:

Leaning into difficulty

There are always lots of problems to solve, lots of difficulties to face. Picking which ones to focus on isn’t easy, but once we know which difficulties we want to tackle leaning into them, getting serious about them is the only way to affect them. Heads in sand doesn’t help.

Communication over coordination

Work needs coordination too, but it needs more and better communication more.

Right or wrong

Everyone is doing what they think is right, it’s just that we all think different things are right. It’s easy to think that some people are right and some are wrong, and usually that those who agree with us that are the ones who are right.

People tweeted:

People like me

Ethan Mollick tweeted “Homophily is the principle that we like people who are like ourselves, and it is a powerful force in explaining how society is structured. This paper shows it goes deeper than skin: You are more likely to be friends with people who literally think like you”. If, as the paper suggests, we are more likely to be friends with people who perceive and respond to the world in ways similar to us (which makes intuitive sense) then how do we get diversity and the benefits that come with it? Maybe work is the answer.

The shape of a product manager

Ravi Mehta tweeted, “Most PMs, even peak PMs, excel at only a handful of these competencies. The difference between the average PM and the peak PM is an understanding of gaps and the ability to unite a team that fills those gaps.”

Rules to live by

Jon Yates tweeted, “After 40 years, I’ve begged and borrowed a few “rules to live by”. Often mess them up! but here they are … What are yours?” The latest rule I’ve been thinking about is ‘Don’t shop hungry’, by which I mean don’t make decisions based the immediate situation you are in. Always try to step back, think about what you are trying to achieve and whether this will help you do it.

Weeknotes #232

This week I did:


This week has been one of my most most fun weeks at work for a long time. The team was set the challenge of rethinking the product we’ve been working on and coming up with a minimal viable version that can be launched more quickly. We worked asynchronously in a single shared document and Miro board and it feels like we’ve made more progress in the last three days than the last three weeks. Of course we wouldn’t have been able to work so quickly without all that background work, but it’s good to experience what we can do as a team when we focus.

For me personally, it’s been interesting to move so quickly between what we need to do strategically to achieve objectives and what we need to do technically to build a solution that works now and gives us a foundation for the future. This what I mean when I talk about how good product management ‘integrates’. It connects the heights of strategy to the low details of how the software works, the past to the present to the future, and the different teams across the organisation to all work together. When I hear product managers say that they’re operating a strategic level like it’s some ego-trip or status-signalling I immediately see how ineffective they are being. Getting better at that ‘integration’ work is one of my professional development goals.

Met the neighbours

As a digital nomad I never thought I’d have neighbours. One of the places I’ve been parking seems to be a well-known spot for those living in vans so I did the neighbourly thing and said, ‘Hi’. One of my neighbours is living in a camper while he waits to be able to return to China to teach English. We talked about American politics, the nomadic lifestyle and other good places to park in the area.

And I thought about:


With numerous X-As-A-Service business models, and the blurring of work and life from more people working at home, the natural evolution seems to be selling X-As-A-Lifestyle. Are you a ‘successful’ work-from-home parent? Write a newsletter about it, build an online following and monetize your experience. Did you suffer from stress and then learn how to cope? Create an online community and sell your wellbeing coaching services. In times of uncertainty people look to others even more for guidance, not just in how to do one thing but in how to live a new life.

Do charities need product management?

I’ve been thinking about product management in charities and what benefits that type of thinking brings to a charity. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal written about product management in charities but given that it’s a function that serves other organisations in other sectors well, and that charities are becoming more reliant on digital technology (not that product management is exclusively about tech) it seems something worth exploring. I’ll get around to turning my thoughts into a blog post one day.

Skill development models

You should specialise. No, you should be a generalist. No, you should be a T shaped person, or I or X shaped. No, you should be star-shaped. The diversity of sectors, careers and careers paths surely makes it impossible to say that a single model fits all situations, perhaps to the point of uselessness. Identifying what skills you should develop, especially given the world we live in today, seems like it should be a bottom-up exercise that is capable of changing quickly rather than one that fits a particular model or system.

And read:

No Meetings, No Deadlines, No Full-Time Employees

Sahil Lavingia writes about how work is organised at Gumroad. It is a glimpse at how one company has evolved to be completely remote, asynchronous, low overhead cost, and transparent about things like wages. Obviously the model fits a very particular type of organisation, and has reached this place through crisis rather than intelligent design from the outset. And the post has none of the, ‘This is how we succeeded and you should copy us’ tone that some organisations have when they write about their working culture and comes from a humble place of sharing how it worked for them. For those organisations trying to get back to the normal working of everyone in the same office at the same time it offers an interesting contrast.

Ideas That Changed My Life

Morgan Housel wrote about the ideas that changed his life. I was particularly interested in the parts on sustainable sources of competitive advantage and the quote by Historian Niall Ferguson who dais that “The dead outnumber the living 14 to 1, and we ignore the accumulated experience of such a huge majority of mankind at our peril.”. One of the ideas that I’ve been thinking about and feel has changed my life is around the balance of benefit and cost, and how I think everything has more cost than benefit, which is right in that what is a cost to me is probably a benefit to someone else, and that’s how a complex society works, but also how continually incurred costs seems like another way to talk about entropy and the eventually consumption of all finite resources.

Remember the Chinese Bamboo Tree

Charles Burdett wrote, “When it feels like you’re not making progress, remember the Chinese Bamboo Tree.”, where the growth of bamboo is used as a metaphor for continuing to work towards success even when there is no visible growth at beginning. For me it illustrates that we all have mental models that don’t match the reality of how systems perform. We expect growth and success to be linear, but in fact it almost never is. Getting our understanding of the world closer to the realities of the world seems like a essential, albeit probably impossible, challenge.

And some people tweeted:

2 ways to teach.

Craig Burgess tweeted about two different relationship models for teaching, one where the teacher is seen as an authority passing on best practice from an existing body of knowledge and one where the teacher is exploring and learning at the same time as sharing their new knowledge. We had a short discussion on Twitter about whether one way is better than the other or could be used for different situations. Perhaps the first way of teaching works better for established bodies of knowledge where students need stability in what information will be transferred, and the second works better where the knowledge hasn’t been codified for transmission and is still emerging.

Building an online audience online is developing social capital

I tweeted a short essay about how the things people write nowadays about building an online audience are based upon thinking around developing social capital that is almost a hundred years old. In a way it relates to my chat with Craig about how established and emerging knowledge affect each other. How much do those who are creating emerging knowledge in a particular field, such as building an audience for an online business, build upon, knowingly or unknowingly, the body of existing knowledge? If there are no new ideas then is everyone wasting their time discovering their own emerging knowledge? I think not, because existing knowledge is codified as information and can only be turned into knowledge by someone else if they go through a learning process.

Personal blogs and RSS feeds

Terence Eden tweeted about reading blogs via his RSS feed setup and Luca Hammer tweeted his very cool tool for identifying the feeds of websites that people link to in the Twitter bios. I’ve been trying different ways of building a horizon-scanner using RSS for ages, and with tools like IFFTT and Tentacle having limits to the number of feeds I hadn’t got very far. Then I found out that Slack has an RSS app so I set up a channel to receive notifications from different websites across the charity sector. Now I get a notification when a new article is posted on any of those websites. I’ve never been a big fan of Slack, probably because of my leaning towards asynchronous communication and having never worked in an organisation where it had been allowed, but it actually has more uses for an individual than I previously thought. I’m starting to think of it as less of a communication tool and more of a stream of stuff going on that I’m interested in.

Reviewing Narakeet

What is Narakeet?

Narakeet turns PowerPoint presentations into videos. The slides become the visuals and the notes are narrated into a voice over.

It has twenty languages, lots of different voices to choose from, subtitles, and background music. Pretty much everything you need to create a video.

My use case

I want to create short instructional videos for guiding people through a process on a charity website. But I can imagine all kinds of other uses.

Using Narakeet for the first time

I started by trying to upload my PowerPoint presentation without signing-up and get a message that my file size is too large so I should sign up for an account.

I sign up with Google.

Once signed in to my account I get some instructions. I check the file size of my PowerPoint and continue with uploading my file.

As the file is imported this screen shows me the progress.

My PowerPoint had animations (because I wanted to test how Narakeet would deal with them) so I got a warning message to tell me that the animations would be ignored (test successful). I continued.

I have a choice, continue with creating the video with the default settings or edit the settings. I want to see what settings there are so I click ‘Edit the settings’.

The settings allow me to customise the size, language, voice, volume, speed, music and subtitles. I change the voice and switch on the subtitles.

As the PowerPoint file is converted into video this screen keeps me informed about what’s going on. My video is only 50 seconds long so it converts quick quickly.

I watched the video, was happy with it and so downloaded it.

The results

Other than not paying attention about the file size upload limit and trying to upload a file before creating an account, the entire process was simple to follow with good instructions.

Narakeet is a simple idea but so needed for charities, small businesses and individual creators that can’t afford expensive video creation.

Towards a stigmergy for third sector transformation

Create a stigmergy, not a strategy

Sector transformation doesn’t need a strategy. A strategy requires a single coordinated vision and centralised control. The sector doesn’t need that. It needs different thinking. So, instead of a strategy, the sector needs a stigmergy.

A stigmergy is a “mechanism of spontaneous, indirect coordination between agents or actions, where the trace left in the environment by an action stimulates the performance of a subsequent action. Stigmergy enables complex, coordinated activity without any need for planning, control, communication, simultaneous presence, or even mutual awareness. The resulting self-organization is driven by a combination of positive and negative feedbacks, amplifying beneficial developments while suppressing errors” (Heylighen, 2015).

Originally a term was used in biology, and then the early 90’s saw the notion applied to other self-organising systems. Soon it became a useful model in a number of fields that attempt to understand self-organisation including artificial intelligence. A stigmergy offers an understanding of how to enable a self-organising movement to create change where no single vision for that change can either be agreed or coordinated. It offers a different way to consider change from our tendency to regard change as successful when everyone has agreed, actioned and conformed to the same change. It allows us to consider our notions of change more diversely and encompassing a range of actions, opinions and attitudes, to accept that perhaps change can be different in different circumstances but still be considered successful.

How can a stigmergy be created? Easy. Accept a diverse range of voices, opinions, ethics, values. Even those that at first glance appear in conflict with others. Don’t allow a single voice or opinion to dominate. Don’t look to leaders to make change happen. Avoid leadership in all it’s forms. Do lots of different things. Collaborate. Share. Co-create. Encourage everyone to look and listen to what is happening across the sector. Let simple, and even unconscious, ‘rules’ emerge from the actions and interactions people have. Let actions be seen by others, and responded to, creating feedback for the actors, and driving more action. From this others are inspired to act, to do their thing, sometimes in concert, sometimes in conflict. The positive actions, those that the sector accepts and amplifies through feedback loops gain ground whilst those attempts that fail become diminished and lost.


Favour collectivism over individualism

Pandemic times have shown us that our society that prides itself on individualism (Hofstede, 2020). Every person that went to a crowded beach or didn’t wear a mask in a shop did so because they live in a society that, even if it doesn’t say so explicitly, values individual rights over collective responsibility.

Third sector people and organisations are no different. Individualism is ingrained in everyone one of us, every organisational strategy, every decision that each employee takes. It is how we have been trained to think. The Charity Commission’s rules on what makes a charity state that, “Your organisation’s ‘purpose’ is what it is set up to achieve… to be a charity your organisation must have charitable purposes only. It cannot have some purposes that are charitable and some that are not.” (Charity Commission, 2013). This tells charities that they have a legal obligation to look inwards, protect their own resources, focus on their individual mission. This is just one example (there are more) of the mindset that subtly compels organisations to prioritise their own (perceived) needs ahead of those of the sector, society or the whole world.

If the mission of all third sector organisations was to first ‘make the world better’; to save the planet, tackle the inequalities in society, etc… before then attending to their individual mission, then we’d see a very different third sector.

It’s easy to blame individuals. And why not, after all what is an organisation if not just a collection of individuals (Heath, 2020). But it’s important to remember that those individuals are as constrained by the systems of the sector and society and everyone else. Individualism is the problem, not the individuals. To think that change can be brought about by changing the individuals is to fall into Pirsig’s rationality trap.

Pirsig said, “But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government.” If the systems that created that individual remain then another, similar, individual will come to replace them.

The problem is not the individual charities and third sector organisations either, the problem is the individualistic thinking that occurs in them. The established organisations are not the enemy of the sector, they are as much part of and victim of the worldview that the dominant voices of our society hold. Charity laws express that same thinking. The theoretical models applied to our economy express the same thinking. Individualism is deeply ingrained in our worldview.

How can a mindset be changed to be collectivist? Not so easy. It takes decades or even centuries to change the worldview of a society, but if ever there was a time to start that change, it is now. Charities and third sector organisations can think about the needs of other organisations along with their own. They can develop innovation eco-systems that work together and share resources. They can collaborate. Sometimes they can make self-sacrificing decisions that are better for communities or the environment. They can partner with other third sector organisations that might need support. They can think about whether the notion of a charity as focused on a single charitable purpose is really fit for the future.

Go forth and spontaneously act positively

To change the sector is to change society. To improve the sector is to make our society better. To lead the way is not a small task. But the third sector has a huge part to play in creating a better world. It cannot be left to politicians and billionaires, so who else is going to do it?


Heylighen, F. 2015. Stigmergy as a universal coordination mechanism I: Definition and components. Cognitive Systems Research. Volume 38, June 2016, Pages 4-13.

About charitable purposes. 2013. What makes a charity (CC4). Charity Commission.

Heath. J. 2020. Methodological Individualism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The role of charities in the Democratic Society system

How the three domains of a democratic society system interplay and how the charity sector can choose to have an impact on society.

If we want to understand where charities fit into our contemporary democratic society, now and in the near future, we need a means of seeing them in relation to other parts of the system of our society. 

The domains of our democratic society

The Democratic Society system can be thought of as having three ‘domains’, the State, the Market, and Civil society. 

The State domain is the central governing function for society. It creates operating rules through regulations and laws. It’s important not to confuse state-run services such as the NHS, or particularly political parties, or government institutions with the State.

The Market domain can be thought of as somewhat synonymous with the economy. Its operating rules are those we associate with business and the economy, such as competition, supply and demand, and wealth distribution.

The Civil domain is concerned with communities. Its operating rules include a sense of belonging, shared aims, beliefs and values. The WHO defines Civil society as “the space for collective action around shared interests, purposes and values, generally distinct from government and commercial for-profit actors. Civil society includes charities, development NGOs, community groups, women’s organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trade unions, social movements, coalitions and advocacy groups”. Again, we don’t want to confuse how a single organisation operates within the Civil domain with how the Civil domain operates. And we should accept that any organisation, charities included, will be subject to the operating rules from all three domains.

If it seems that ‘the individual’ is conspicuously missing from these domains of society then that is correct. Whilst society can be defined as a group of individuals with persistent social interactions, an individual isn’t capable of initiating operating rules separate from the three domains at sufficient scale to impact on the checks and balances of the wider society system. An individual can make choices about following laws, buying from businesses, and contributing to a community, but they can’t make their own rules for society to operate by. 

All three domains interact, often in achieving the same things, but there isn’t a clear boundary between the responsibilities of each domain, all are responsible for the functioning of society. The difference between them is in how they work. The state might favour regulations as a means of exercising some level of (but never absolute) control, whereas the market uses competition mechanisms. The nature of this society as a network means that all others can be affected by all other parts of the system.

It’s hard to find a meaningful way to compare the three domains. Should it be by how much they spend, how many people work in them? There doesn’t seem to be an easy way to compare them, but suffice to say that the State and the Market dwarf Civil society by any measure.

Why do we need all three domains with their three different operating modes? To create an interplay between them, to create imbalance and address imbalance created by the actions of others. Without that interplay society would stagnate and not change over time. 

How does democracy work?

Ignoring what we may think personally about contemporary Western society’s implementation of democracy, democracy, as an ideal, as a mode of organisation for a society has two big principles; 1, include everything, and 2, allow everything to be affected by a multitude of checks and balances.

So, for example Fascism isn’t outside of and separate to democracy. In a Democratic society Fascism is included, it is allowed to exist. To try to prevent it would fail the first principle. But there are checks and balances in place to give the people the means to decide whether to accept or resist Fascism, or any other idea, concept, behaviour, technology, etc. All things are included and then through balancing mechanisms adopted to a greater or lesser degree, and in some cases fade to non-existence. 

These democratic checks and balances allow the people to decide what is and isn’t included in our society. 

We tell ourselves that voting is the only democratic action available to us but that just isn’t true. Voting is one of the means provided by the state, along with other means such as laws and the choice of whether to obey them. We think that democracy is purely within the domain of the state but that isn’t the case, all three domains make up and are necessary for a democratic society.

Which businesses we choose to buy from and what products we choose to use are democratic choices that drive the competition mechanism in the market domain. And businesses can use advertising to convince the people to buy from them, which is another balancing mechanism attempting to tip things in their favour. 

When a group of people join together to achieve an objective they act as a balancing mechanism within the Civil domain and affect other mechanisms in the same and other domains. Whether they are joined as a WhatsApp group for their street or joined anonymously to each other through their support of a charity, their actions balance other actions that affect their street or the cause that the charity supports.

Every action performed within a democratic society is the result of a balance acting on it, and becomes a balance for some other action.

Of course, different mechanisms are available to different people and in different circumstances, and with different levels of effectiveness in achieving their aims. I’m not suggesting that democracy is about achieving ‘fairness’ or ‘equality’ within society. Those things are value judgments of the people in the society and of course are subject to the balancing mechanisms of society, but they aren’t the objectives of the Democratic Society system. If enough people want equality, say for example for all races and colours, then the choices they make and the actions they take can tip the balances in favour of that objective, and this is how society evolves over time.

No mechanism can achieve absolute control because other mechanisms, from other domains, prevent it.

Nations that have tried ideologically to have only the state in power, and so controlling the market and civil society (if there is any), quickly find that their attempts at the single centralised control of as complex a system as a society fail.

The Civil domain in a Democratic Society system

A strong civil society is essential for the effective functioning of a democratic society.

Civil society introduces a number of different mechanisms that wouldn’t exist in the state or market domains. Coordinated collective action is one such mechanism. When a group of people want to affect a change that could not be achieved as a consumer in the market domain or as a voter in the state domain, they can turn to collective action in the civil domain. We see this in protests about climate change. Protests are a civil society mechanism for attempting to tip the balance in favour of what those people want. In a non-democratic society one group of people can get what they want regardless of what anyone else wants, but in a democratic society there are other checks and balances going on, in the example of climate change, the money introduced into the economy by the companies drilling for oil. We also see it in fundraising for charities where funds raised by coordinated individuals are used to pay for things that fall outside of what the state takes responsibility for and for which no market mechanisms exist to allow a business to undertake (no way to make a profit).

Why do we need to have some understanding of the interplay of the democratic society system in order to understand what role charities play in society? Because we need perspective and context. We need to see that charities don’t exist in isolation from other parts of society, and we need to appreciate the systems thinking that allows us to see how all the parts of the system have a complex interplay.

Where charities fit in the Civil domain in a Democratic Society system

Charities are one part of civil society. As we saw from the WHO definition civil society also includes development NGOs, community groups, faith-based organizations, social movements, and advocacy groups. If, as we said above, Civil society involves organising groups of people into communities towards achieving an aim, then all of these examples are types of organisations, different ways of organising people, and each with different characteristics.

Social movements are decentralised in nature, providing people with a context to organise within and contribute to a cause, but without a central body or organisation coordinating their actions. This type of organisational model has its strengths, including the speed at which it can grow and spread, but it has weakness too. This can be seen in the Black Lives Matter movement where people wanted to support it through donating money, but there were no centralised controls to direct the funds raised in ways that help the cause.

Where more coordination than might be achieved by a decentralised approach is required, then organisations like charities have a role to play. An example might be with specialised medical research that members of the general public do not have sufficient knowledge to make decisions about where to direct funds and so a formal and structured organisation that is able to recruit experts to make those decisions about which research should be funded is more effective.

Charity, as a type of organisation, has a role to play in civil society, and the work charities do, whether it is lobbying for changes to laws or supporting individual members of society, has a role to play in providing yet further balances in the Democratic Society system. How the civil domain is made up is also affected by balancing mechanisms within the wider democratic society system, and so changes over time. An increase in grassroots social movements may seem like a threat to charities but they shouldn’t feel in competition with this or other ways of organising people, but instead should focus on their own relevance.

Participating in the civil domain isn’t a zero-sum game. People participating in a social movement because that is the most relevant way for that group to be organised doesn’t prevent the same people from also supporting a charity that organises people in a different way in support of the same or a different cause.

The interplay of balances in the Democratic Society system may result in other means of organising groups of people arising but this doesn’t prevent charities from leveraging the strengths of their way of organising people for the benefit of society at large.

The moral choice of charities

When considering how to contribute in civil society, charities have some big moral choices to make at a number of different scales. Should they do things that tip the balance in favour of their organisation? Or should they act in the best interests of the charity sector, even if that means some self-sacrifice for their organisation? Should they act in the best interests of the charity sector if that inadvertently suppresses other types of organisations within civil society? Should they do what they believe is right for the Civil domain to grow and ensure it continues to provide balances against the actions of the State and Market domains, even if that would damage the charity sector?

These are impossible questions to answer, and in a complex system predicting the outcomes is impossible, but making the best choices possible is essential for the system to balance and evolve.