Digital Pilgrims’ Progress: How New Zealand Christian Charities Navigate Digitalisation

Udy, Karl
Frommherz, Gudrun
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Master of Communication Studies
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Auckland University of Technology

In an increasingly digital world, every sphere of society is being impacted by digitalisation. While much attention is given to the impact of digitalisation in the commercial sector, less is given to its impact on other spheres of society. Christian charities are a large subset of New Zealand’s not-for-profit sector which play a significant role in New Zealand society. This thesis asks the question, “How are Christian charities in New Zealand navigating digitalisation?” and includes quantitative data from an online survey open to all Christian charities in New Zealand supplemented by qualitative data from interviews of a selection of charities that participated in the survey. The research identifies three distinct positions toward digitalisation that Christian charities may hold: 1) digitally proactive; 2) digitally reactive; and 3) digitally inactive. Each of these positions had markedly different approaches toward digitalisation. Digitally inactive charities sought minimal use of digital technology in their operations despite the rapid increase of digital technology in society. Digitally proactive charities used digital technology widely and integrated their digital decision-making into their long-term plans, implementing several aspects of effective digital strategy. Digitally reactive charities, although they used digital technology quite widely, found their digital decision-making dominated by concerns regarding issues such as budget and staff skills that hindered their ability to implement an effective digital strategy. New Zealand Christian charities generally adopted a DIY approach to digitalisation, characterised by ad-hoc decision-making, a preference for in-house solutions, and a reliance on volunteers. The charities also indicated that the “people” aspect of digital technology was extremely important. They were prepared to forgo the convenience of digital technology if that convenience was at the expense of excluding those who may have barriers to using digital technology. They were also careful to ensure that any digital technology introduced was not detrimental to the quality of the personal relationships in their community. Although the theological implications regarding digital technology were rarely made explicit, they were generally considered important by the charities. However, the practical concerns of a charity’s operations often took priority over theological concerns.

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