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Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, and Mims Davies, Minister for Sport and Civil Society

Our biannual public trust and confidence research shows that the public really value seeing the results of a charity’s work. That’s not always easy, but digital technology offers charities a unique opportunity to take the impact of their work directly to their supporters’ smartphones. Through the use of smart infographics, social media and targeted digital campaigns, charities can communicate clearly to donors where their hard earned pennies are going

1. Charity leaders need to own digital

If there is one thing I would like people to remember about this year’s Charity Digital Skills report, it’s this: charities want their leaders to drive digital. They cannot put digital in a black box and pass it to another team. If your leadership team aren’t on board with digital, it’s time to discuss the benefits of how digital could help your charity, and the risks if your charity doesn’t change. Often the best way to do this is to show how similar organisations are using digital to raise money, reach more people or create competitive advantage.

2. Boards must drive digital change

Trustees are ultimately responsible for digital. Once again our report revealed a significant digital skills gap on boards. The vast majority of charities that we spoke to either aren’t aware of or don’t have any plans to improve this. Talk to your board about what support they need with digital. Is it a regular briefing on key trends? Better reporting? Or would they benefit from reverse mentoring from a member of staff? I would frame the conversation with your board as one about risk and opportunity, not digital. However you convince them, you need to talk their language, not yours. 

3. Digital needs to be a key part of your organisational strategy

Most organisations are still not aligning these two areas which leads to money being wasted, charities missing out on opportunities and the risk of supporters going elsewhere. Show your leadership team what your charity is missing out on and the business case for how digital could help your charity be more effective.

4. Use GDPR as a catalyst for change

The findings on GDPR from our report are encouraging and we hope that the good work in this area continues after it comes into force in May 2018. Some of the most effective charities we know have used GDPR as an opportunity to completely overhaul how they communicate and fundraise, developing best practice in collecting, analysing and managing data.

5. Funders need to develop their digital skills

With funding revealed as the biggest barrier holding charities back from doing more with digital, funders must raise their game. If I was a funder I would look at auditing the digital skills I have in-house so that I could understand how to close the gaps. Grant management teams have a critical role to play here as they assess digital elements of funding bids, so they may need additional support.

6. Horizon scanning is essential

With a growing number of charities planning how digital trends could change their charity’s work, someone in your organisation needs to be responsible for this. Your charity will then be ready for what’s coming next.

7. Plan for emerging tech

Whilst many charities still need to get the right foundations for digital, they also need to have an eye on the future. Automating some processes, developing a Facebook chat bot or looking at partnerships with tech companies are all good ways to get started.

Charity Digital Skills Report Banner


More than half of charities (52%) don’t have a digital strategy: An increase from the last two years

Digital Strategy


Priorities for digital

More than two thirds of charities (67%) want to use digital to increase their impact




Funding concerns

Funding continues to be the biggest challenge for charities with digital, at 56% compared to 58% last year

Board level change

There is clearly a substantial digital skills gap on boards, yet 76% of people either don’t know what is being done to improve this or believe that their charity doesn’t have any plans.

Just over a third (34%) feel that digital transformation is being
led from the top. This is slightly less than last year (36%) but more
than 2017 (29%).


Less than a quarter of charities (23%) have a clear strategy for how digital can help achieve their goals, indicating that the majority of charities have not aligned their digital and organisational strategies.

Digital alignment


Leadership expectations

Charities still want more from their leaders in digital, with 64% wishing they would offer a good digital


Digital trustees?

Most charities (68%) rate their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement, similar to
2018, whilst there has been a 3% decline in digitally savvy boards.


Digital retention

Increasing staff’s skills and retaining talent has become less of a priority when developing skills. Only 57%
think that this is the case, compared to 65% in 2018, and back to the same level as in 2017.


Leadership needed

57% want their leaders to understand trends and how they affect charities, down from 63% last year. An improvement or lower expectations?


Digital at the top


More than half (53%) of charities are aware of emerging tech developments but aren’t planning for them yet. Just 12% are planning for how this could change their charity.

Falling behind on AI

58% say that their charities have
fair to low skills in digital leadership, a notable increase from 53% last year.

Leadership problem


If the way their charity uses digital doesn’t improve, 36% of respondents are unsure if they will stay in their role in the long term or are planning to look for a job at another, digitally savvy charity, down from 39% last year.

Digital as a career driver


Sarah Atkinson - Charity Commision
Director of Policy and Communications

Sarah Atkinson - Charity Commission

If we want to drive up public trust and confidence in charity, we need to see charities harnessing these new opportunities and unlocking the true powers of digital. The slight improvement in digital skills that this research shows is encouraging, but clearly not the step change we would have wanted to see. I am concerned that a third of charity professionals still say lack of trustee understanding is a barrier.

Embracing new technology needs to go right across a charity’s culture. One sure fire way to get your charity thinking digital is to make sure you have a range of ideas and perspectives on your board. In November the Commission published some fascinating research which highlighted a shocking lack of diversity on charity boards. We found that this coincided with charities missing out on key skills such as digital, campaigning and marketing. 

With technology evolving all the time, all charities can benefit from taking a step back and reviewing their approach to digital. The Commission’s Making Digital Work guidance is an excellent place to start, with 12 steps to help your charity think through its digital journey.


Read the Full Report


Director of Zoe Amar Communications

Most of us probably have had a school report at some point with the words ‘could do better’. That phrase seems the most appropriate response to the results of the Charity Digital Skills survey 2018.

There are some great highlights in this latest report. Charities were early adopters and then trailblazers using social media, so I’m not surprised to see them continuing to do well on this front (although having a digital strategy and using social media are two quite different things). Charities are also acutely aware of the need to meet new GDPR rules, and it’s satisfying to see that the majority feel well prepared for this.

But the lowlights are really quite concerning. In particular the fact that skills are such an enormous challenge facing charities today – second only to lack of funding. This is incredibly frustrating. A digital approach to supporting the skills of staff and volunteers is just common sense: it saves time and money, and it works. And there are plenty of free and low cost digital resources out there. Charities that are not embracing this new digital reality are not just getting left behind, they face a talent drain, with a third of survey respondents saying they may leave unless their organisation’s approach to digital improves.

It’s easy to point the finger of blame at leadership - charity leaders must feel beleaguered in the current climate – but the digital skills & attitude of leaders and trustees really do have to change. It’s only by leading by example, from the top, that much needed digital transformation will take place. And only when that happens will we see the massive shift towards digital adoption that is so desperately required. The proven benefits, such as increased productivity, effectiveness and engagement, are there for the taking. So my advice for charity leaders in light of this report is definitely 'must try harder'!

CEO & Founder

It's positive to see that understanding of the wide ranging opportunities of digital has increased - from improving services, to increasing efficiency and growing income. More respondents say that they're thinking about digital in a strategic way. However, they also report that they need to increase skills and confidence across their organisations, including at leadership level, to make the most of the opportunities. The range and quality of support available to charities is increasing, but there's still lots to do.

Megan Griffith Gray - NCVO
Head of Digital, Data and Planning


Jamie Ward-Smith
Chair of Co-op Foundation - the co-funders of the Charity Digital Code of Practice - and CEO of Doit.Foundation

Image of Jamie Ward-Smith Co-op Foundation

“It is encouraging that almost half of the respondents to the Charity Digital Skills report want to use digital to further their service delivery, helping them to increase their community reach and impact. But clearly more work needs to be done to bring charity leaders on a ‘digital journey’ where they prioritise skills, strategy and culture to ensure they don’t miss out on the benefits that digital offers. For example, in a climate where online giving is increasingly the norm, far too many small charities still have no online donation option which means they are excluding many future supporters.

Funders also have a big responsibility to work more co-operatively to help the sector, in particular small charities, to succeed. It’s encouraging to see some exciting partnerships taking place to address this but far more needs to be done if we are to ensure that all of our sector can move forward on this critical journey to safeguard its future. Co-op Foundation intends to lead by example and we’re looking forward to working with our partners in the coming months to ensure that our sector thrives.

Vicky Browning - ACEVO 

Image of Vicky Browning ACEVO

The Charity Digital Skills Report 2019 gives a helpful picture of the state of digital within the sector. It’s encouraging to see a positive shift in the stats on digital leadership, which reflects the increased importance many charity leaders are putting on improving their organisation’s digital performance. The data on governance shows that more work is needed on recruiting trustees with good digital skills, so it’s great to see charities like Reach Volunteering working with charities to improve this.

Read the Full Report

Jonathan Chevallier - Tech Trust

Whilst this year’s survey shows some encouraging improvements, my over-riding takeaway is that the issues hindering progress now are primarily strategic in nature.  The survey shows too few charities have a digital strategy, there is not enough focus on digital service delivery, funding Is insufficient and investment in developing skills and retaining talent is lacking.  Fortunately these are areas which we are focusing on tackling at scale in Tech Trust and with other capacity building organisations also working on these issues my hope is that significant progress can be made over the next 12 months.


45% of charities don't have a digital strategy
Martin Baker
Image of Jonathan Chevallier Tech Trust
Image of Megan Griffith Gray NCVO
Image of Carol Rudge Grant Thornton UK

Carol Rudge - ‎Grant Thornton UK 
Global and UK Head of Not for Profit

It is important that all sectors track and understand how to adopt and adapt to new technologies, and this report is a really good way for the charity sector to benchmark best practice. The report shows that many charities have a good understanding that digital is all-pervasive; it shouldn’t be considered as a separate tool but as integral to how modern workplaces happen and can underlie new ways of working, improved services to beneficiaries and ultimately greater impact overall. 

© 2019 The Workforce Development Trust - Registered Charity Number 1132476. Company Number 6659453

The Charity Digital Skills Report is the definitive survey of the digital skills landscape across the third sector. Now in its third year, the report provides an annual barometer of the state of digital skills within the charity sector.

Following the success of the report in 2017 and 2018, the Skills Platform, in partnership with Zoe Amar Digital, set about ‘taking the temperature’ of the charity sector and, more specifically, about how it’s using digital. The aim was to use the intelligence gathered to map digital skills across the charity sector and to develop a shared understanding of how digital can help charities to achieve their missions.
As the sector evolves and new challenges and opportunities come our way (not to mention Brexit) we’ve endeavoured to weave these, and other topical themes, into the report to ensure we’re staying ahead of the curve and also providing relevant and useful insights. So you’ll notice that we’ve changed up some of the questions for the 2019 report to tackle this. 

With knowledge comes power, and with power comes great responsibility” and our single hope is that the insights contained within this report help to drive the charity sector forward. 
We hope you’ll find this overview of charity digital useful and inspiring. Happy reading!

Zoe and Laura

Digital image on computer

However, a clear message is that people are at the heart of successfully utilising digital: getting the right skills, the right leadership and the right governance in place is vital and should be seen as a long-term investment in the foundations of a successful organisation. This is particularly true when it comes to cyber-security and data protection, where ignorance is no defence against cyber-criminals or regulators. It also makes sense to look more at the technological horizon and think creatively about how new ideas might work - this shouldn't be seen as a luxury item but key to making sure that new opportunities can be spotted as soon as possible.

Rhodri Davies - CAF
 Head of Policy


Image of Rhodri Davies - CAF

Charities face a range of challenges when it comes to engaging with technology issues. Many may simple lack the knowledge and skills to understand what is going in technology and how it may affect them or the people and communities they work with; which is perhaps unsurprising given the current pace of technological change. But even if they have that understanding, charities may lack the resources to capitalise on it or the leadership and culture that would enable them to take risks and make potentially difficult decisions in order to adapt and thrive. 

It is encouraging that the majority of charities recognise that technological change is going to have a profound impact over the next ten years. Yet at the same time, these new figures also show that far fewer than half of organisations are actually getting to grips with what that impact is likely to be or developing a strategic plan for how to respond. This echoes findings in CAF’s recent Charity Landscape 2019 report - where we also identified a clear gap between the number of charities that recognise the importance of technological change and the percentage of them that are currently doing anything about it – and this is a real cause for concern.

It is clear that more needs to be done to ensure that charities are able to adapt to the technological change that is reshaping our society as part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. They will require support - in terms of financial resources, but also the wider development of skills and knowledge that will equip them to harness technology and also advocate effectively about some of its negative impacts. And this support will have to come from a range of sources, including government, the tech sector, philanthropic funders and infrastructure bodies within the charity sector itself.

It is crucial that we address these challenges now, as the danger is that otherwise charities will get left behind by the pace of change. Not only would this be a huge missed opportunity in terms of finding potentially transformative ways of addressing social problems, but it might also bring the risk that some charities will find themselves increasingly out of step with the needs of the people and communities they serve. 

With the pace of change of technology increasing all the time, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see charities report little progress over the past year on many of the measures of digital skills and capability. From our work with a wide range of organisations in Scotland, we know many struggle to find the resources to improve their day-to-day technology infrastructure, making it harder to take advantage of the opportunities presented by new digital tools and approaches. Engaging Boards and senior leaders therefore remains a high priority. Organisations must take a strategic approach to adapt to the digital world, exploring the opportunities and evolving what they do and how they do it in response. There are significant opportunities for organisations to improve outcomes and work more efficiently, but each organisation must take the time to explore its own priorities and invest appropriate to realise the benefits.

David McNeill - SCVO
Director of Digital

Image of David McNeill SCVO



Image of Rhodri Davies - CAF
Image of Zoe Amar

Zoe Amar
Founder of Zoe Amar Digital

1. Funders need to step up 
This is the third year we’ve run the report, and the second consecutive year that charities have told us funding is the biggest barrier to them getting more from digital. There is a growing need for digital across the sector;  52% of charities do not have a digital strategy, the highest number since the report began in 2017.  Funders need to do more to support charities’ digital ambitions, otherwise their grantees’ impact could suffer. 

2. We need digital, not analogue, leaders 
The overwhelming majority of charities want their leaders to offer a clear vision of what digital could help their charity achieve. Leadership teams and their staff need to work together to develop what this could look like. We need to invest in supporting leaders in developing their digital skills, and to consider how this affects recruitment, and how we assess performance and retain talent. 

3. Boards need to raise their game 
With a decline in the number of digitally savvy boards, and less charities investing in digital training for trustees, how can boards make informed decisions? As a first step, 
Reach Volunteering can help charities recruit digital trustees.
Charities who really get digital often live by the mantra ‘a digital organisation is a learning organisation’ and it’s time we had similar expectations of boards, encouraging them to learn new skills and use their strategy and business experience to provide positive challenge to how staff are using digital. Offering to brief your board about the latest digital trends affecting your charities’ work could pique their curiosity. 

4. Charities should build on their digital ambitions 
Despite these challenges, charities are hungry to use digital to increase their impact, deliver services and get more from their data. Many see the potential to save money and time. CAST have an excellent set of 
service design principles for charities. If you’d like to get more from your data take a look at Datakind UK

5. Keep putting user needs first 
More than half of the charities who took part are responding to changing user needs and behaviours. If you feel that your charity could do more in this area, start with the data you already have, such as how users are interacting with you on your social media platforms and your website, and who is using your services, and how often. 

6. Our digital teams need to be more diverse 
There is awareness of the need to have a range of perspectives and experiences on digital teams, but just 25% see it as a priority.  Ask yourself whether the job descriptions you have are truly inclusive, check if you’re always using the same channels to find candidates and test out draft adverts on contacts from a range of different backgrounds and listen to their feedback. 

7.  We need to talk about digital ethics 
More than half of the charities we spoke to are aware that ethics is an issue but aren’t planning for it as yet. Whether it’s the values of suppliers and partners, what big tech companies are doing with your data or whether you’re reaching the digitally excluded, start a conversation with your team and look at how you can identify and manage risks.

READ REPORT DETAILDOWNLOAD 2019 REPORTIntroductionSector ResponseReport DetailAboutCharity TrainingSocial ToolkitDigital Toolkit

Dan Sutch - CAST

Image of Dan Sutch

This report presents a challenge to our sector - asking us to define where we want to be and what role we should have in an increasingly digitally-mediated world. For the UK charity sector to remain in a position to provide support and to champion the needs of those most vulnerable, we need to ensure we respond to new digital behaviours, by ensuring our organisations are responsive to the changing needs, behaviours and expectations of those we seek to support. 55% of charities answered that they are beginning to do this - a figure that gives hope that we can redefine the sector's role whilst continuing to deliver value to those that need it most.

Sarah Atkinson - Charity Commission
Director of Policy and Communications

Once again this report gives us a vital ‘health check’ when it comes to charities and digital, and the challenges it sets out are clear. Most charities want to use digital to help make more of difference, and almost half want to use it to make their services better - but they are struggling to use it strategically, and of course that takes you to the trustee board. The evidence from this report is that digital skills on trustee boards are still limited, and yet few charities have a clear plan to do something about that. If charity trustees aren’t able to look up and out when it comes to digital and set a strong culture that supports taking digital opportunities and responding to digital threats, then the charities they lead will be on the back foot - and that’s a worry for all of us who care about charity thriving and staying relevant.

Image of Sarah Atkinson Charity Commission

Marie Orpen - Guide Dogs
 Head of Digital

Image of Marie Orpen Guide Dogs

There is definitely a strong correlation between the lack of progress and some of the challenges charities have highlighted in this year’s report such as a lack of strategy and resource, low organisational buy-in, infrastructure and pace. Digital transformation is not digitisation, point solutions or procuring the latest shiny bauble.  It is strategic change: putting your audience at the heart of everything you do; using technology to solve fundamental problems; learning from the data and innovating.  At Guide Dogs, our strategy combines Information Services and Digital, working with colleagues from across the charity. We use a benefits-led approach, showing the direct improvements digital can make, supported by a clear roadmap using Agile delivery. Most critical to success is strategic alignment, investment in end-to-end infrastructure and investment in the right people. Charities truly need people with the ability, agility, fail-fast mentality and appetite if we are to create a digital-first culture

Image of Alan Moody M-Hance

This report highlights some really interesting points, many of which we come across regularly when discussing digital issues with the charities we work with. It is concerning that less than a quarter of charities have a clear digital strategy to help them achieve their goals, but good to know that many understand the benefits of using digital and want to use it to increase their impact over the next year. We understand that making the decision to update digitally can be a major concern for charities. It can involve significant expenditure and internal resources, and most likely be a catalyst for considerable process changes for people within the organisation. What’s also clear from the report is that charities understand that without accurate data, they cannot meet the needs of their supporters which will in turn give them the confidence they need in the charity.

Alan Moody - M-Hance

Read how charity sector leaders feel about the report and their views on the state of charity digital skills in 2019.

Commentary provided by:


Naomi Hutchinson - Digital Catapult NETV
Head of Innovation

Digital is everywhere, so it’s encouraging to see that most charities recognise the key role digital will play in the coming years. However, more specialised support is still needed – technology has the potential to not only improve organisational efficiency, but also to help organisations increase or scale their social impact. 

Image of Naomi Hutchinson Digital Catapult

But it has to be implemented strategically and most importantly, any digital solution

Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley logo

needs to be designed with people at its heart. As a sector, we need to help charity leaders become confident about technology adoption and help their teams to develop the skills and understanding they need. If we can do this, then digital will become something to embrace rather than a ‘great unknown'.