Sarah Burns - Smart Works

One of the brilliant things about the Digital Gum course is being able to apply your newly-acquired digital skills to a real life project. Each cohort works with a small, local charity to give them a digital audit, looking closely at their online presence, including their website and social media. A representative from the charity comes in at the beginning of the course to talk about their cause and to highlight any digital challenges they are facing. Then they return at the end of the course to see a presentation put together by the whole cohort which focuses on improving their digital output and helping them overcome any particular issues.

It’s a complete win-win situation: the students have a focus throughout the course, and the charities are given feedback, suggestions and fresh idea. ‘It’s definitely something that all charities would find useful,’ enthuses Sarah Burns, chair of Smart Works Reading.

Smart Works is a charity that works with women who need support in returning to work. Their backgrounds vary – everyone from an executive reeling from redundancy to a woman with no qualifications who has just been released from prison. What they all lack is confidence, and Smart Works works closely with each client, giving them interview coaching as well as an outfit to wear for their interview.

Smart Works was chosen as the charity for the second Digital Gum cohort – particularly pertinent as it was an all-female group. Within months of attending the presentation, Smart Works had implemented a significant number of the cohort’s suggestions.

‘The output Digital Gum gave was really good,’ Burns smiles. ‘It was well presented. It was clean. It was clear. The challenge for us is the resource to implement it.’ The suggestions made included having a Smart Works Reading LinkedIn page to help increase corporate support, and improving their social media output to engage more with potential clients as well as potential supporters.‘We’ve created in LinkedIn page. ‘It’s a different type of marketing so we’re careful not just to copy what we’ve put on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram,’ she explains. Burns also delights in recalling how, despite being up against both the royal wedding and the FA cup final, their recent fundraising sale achieved more social media engagement than any before.

Smart Works social media is looked after by Social Impact, a company which donates its services to the charity, as well as by a volunteer communications and PR team. ‘That came out of seeing what we could do from the Digital Gum audit,’ Burns adds. Having lots of hands on deck is a huge support but it can also be a hinderance. ‘With social media, brand and consistency are important,’ Burns says. ‘But if you’ve got lots of different volunteers then you can lose that. It’s a really hard balance.’

Digital challenges to the charity sector extend beyond websites and social media, as Burns explains. ‘Everything’s donated so we may have four laptops running four different versions of Word and Excel. It can be really hard to get it all to work.’

Despite these issues, there is so much positivity at the Smart Works Reading office. Their newly-appointed administrator is a former client and their client wardrobe is bursting at the seams with donated clothes, shoes and accessories.

And just as it’s time to leave, a current client rings the bell. She has just been for an interview and looks smart and confident in her newly-acquired dress, shoes and handbag. And even better than that, she got the job!

Louize Clarke