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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

We would like to thank everyone who took part in this survey and extend particular gratitude to Zoe Amar and the Skills Platform for producing the third edition of the Charity Digital Skills report. Not only does this report provide useful insights into digital trends across the sector, but it also shines an important light on where the skills need to be boosted, and arms government with vital insight to create effective policies.

We recognise the vital role technology can play in approaching social challenges. For the social sector to take full advantage of the opportunities that digital presents, it needs to be equipped with the right digital skills.There is no doubt that many charities are struggling to use digital tools strategically, which is impacting the growth of the sector. Over 50 per cent of charities do not have a digital strategy, an increase on last year’s figure of 45 per cent.

We shed light on last year’s findings in our Civil Society Strategy, which showed 72 per cent of charities saw digital’s potential to deliver their organisations’ strategy more effectively, however, only 32 per cent had a strategy, outlining how digital could help achieve their goals. These barriers were linked to a lack of funding, time, capacity, or understanding of how to embed digital at the leadership level.

In response to this, we committed to building a digitally confident civil society and as a first step, launched a £1 million Digital Leadership Fund to not only support the growth of basic digital skills in the charity sector, but encourage leaders to embed digital as a key part of their organisations strategy and values. From Cornwall to Cumbria, this fund expanded on charities and social enterprises ambitions to expand upon a digital transformation programme in their organisation.

It is vital that opportunities to build digital skills are available for charities across the country. Through the Digital Skills partnership, we are boosting digital skills through building strong connections between the public, private and third sectors to make sure we have an inclusive world leading digital economy.

While there is a lot of progress to be made in this area, we are thrilled to hear that charities are thinking big about what digital skills could help them do. This report reveals that 67 per cent of charities plan to use digital to increase their impact. Over the next 12 months, charities plan to prioritise improving skills, with 41 per cent  focusing on the development of their colleagues’ skills and 23 per cent keen to support their board and leadership team in developing theirs.

And it is encouraging to see a remarkable shift towards charities seeing the importance of  digital tech for wider society.

This momentum cannot end here. Our charities and social enterprises continue to amaze us with the inspirational work they carry out within their communities, which is why boosting the digital skills capability of these organisations is increasingly necessary. Not only is this essential for the growth of our digital economy, but it also forms the foundation for growing the UK’s thriving ‘tech for good’ sector and we look forward to this great work continuing.

Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport


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 77% 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

The digital skills survey highlights many gaps or weaknesses which charities may choose to address, including skills, culture, emerging tech, and strategy. But the scale of the task, coupled with its importance, can sometime feel overwhelming. I would encourage readers to focus on a few priorities over the next 12 months that will make a big difference to their organisation and their users. 

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

Read the Full Report


It could be addressing a skills gap, or a particularly problematic piece of legacy technology, or it could be designing a service to address an important user need. Create a vision for the kind of (digital) organisation you want to be, set some aspirational goals, learn from others and share your progress. And together we can help charities of all sizes to harness the potential of technology to make a bigger difference.

Lara Burns - Age UK
  Chief Digital and Technology Officer

“These are really tough times financially for charities and it is unsurprising if investment in developing digital capacity is often being de-prioritised as a result – especially by those organisations which are struggling to keep going at all.

While acknowledging how hard the funding choices facing charities often are at the moment, it’s worth considering how smart investment in the right digital focus for your charity can pay off - not just financially but in many other ways too. So, if your charity is in this position, a great starting place would be to review your digital strategy and how it could support your organisation’s funding growth or help create efficiencies. If you can make those investments, it will be worth it in the long term.”

Jamie Ward-Smith
Chair at VivoLife; Co-founder; Chair of Co-op Foundation

Image of Jamie Ward Smith

There are some encouraging findings in the report but there is clearly still some distance to travel for the sector. Of particular concern is the lack of engagement with new technologies, such as AI and Blockchain, which are moving at a rapid pace that risks seeing charities left behind and unable to benefit from what they can offer unless they start to engage now.  

'Funders are key to unlocking the digital potential of the sector. Ensuring that their strategies are informed by how digital can help grant recipients be more effective and innovative will go a long way to ensure charities are fit for future generations of beneficiaries. Whilst there are some great digital pioneer funders they are currently too few to create the step change that we need. I would urge all funders to get informed and review their policies to ensure they are fit for the digital era.  

It’s good to see that more charity leaders are engaging with digital but we also need to see Trustees lead to ensure that their staff and volunteers have the tools and resources that they need. As well as funders, sector regulators and membership bodies also have a key role to play here to help ensure that Trustees are able to access the advice and guidance they need to steer their charities in the right direction.’

Vicky Browning - ACEVO 

Image of Vicky Browning ACEVO

I’m not surprised that leadership has emerged as a key issue in this year’s Charity Digital Skills Report. Through our work at ACEVO, I have seen that the most effective leaders are those who are quick to seize opportunities, manage risk and stay ahead of the trends affecting their charities. Digital is no exception to this. Embracing digital and leading transformation from the top can enable charity leaders to meet and exceed objectives across everything from the services you offer, to how you fundraise and the people you hire.

 The possibilities are really exciting. And it’s interesting to see that the demand for this isn’t just coming from donors and supporters. The report shows that increasingly staff expect leaders to have a good grounding in digital trends and tools. Ultimately, for CEOs to bring people with them they need to lead from the front in digital.

Eve Joseph - Microsoft
UK Responsibility Manager

Data and innovation have the capacity to truly open up currently unknown potential within the charity sector. To have the ability to find advancements in research, improved service delivery and overall organisation effectiveness, digital skills within the sector need to flourish and develop.

The results of this report show a stark picture of how technological advancements offered to the world in the areas of cloud computing, AI (Artificial Intelligence) and productivity are not being utilised by the sector to their full potential. Charities across the UK do extraordinary, life-changing work which could deliver greater impact if they analysed, understood and utilised their data in a more effective way. 

To be clear, this is not just about learning more about social media, counting likes and adding appropriate hashtags to photographs but about reflecting and assessing what their charity is trying to deliver and how data and improved technology infrastructure can help them achieve this.  These advancements  come into their own when charity leaders align their digital and corporate strategies but this report states that just 32% currently have a clear idea of how digital advancements can help achieve their charity's objectives.  

If those reading the report feel overwhelmed with where to begin, they could simply start with thinking about what their data is allowing them to accomplish now and what it might look like if just one process could be modernised through the use of technology. A process which could secure more funding, improve services or help them understand their supporters more. When charities look at the problems they need tech to solve rather than the overwhelming number of tech options out there, they can begin to improve their digital skills and become more impactful.

Read the Full Report

Mandy Johnson - Small Charities Coalition

These findings indicate that funders are behind the pace of change of the charities that they look to support. This is worrying; funders need to adapt quickly if the charity sector is going to thrive in the digital world that they operate in. In light of these results, I would advise charity leaders to make sure they are able to articulate the increased impact their organisations could have through the adoption of technology with the hope that this gives a better understanding to their stakeholders around them.

David McNeill SCVO
 Digital Director

It is clear that some charities are taking steps towards adapting to a digital world, but progress remains slow. With less than half of organisations reporting a good understanding of how digital 


45% of charities don't have a digital strategy

Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

Tracey Crouch MP
Margot James
Martin Baker

trends might affect their work, charity leaders and trustees must increasingly challenge ‘the way we’ve always done it.’ This isn’t just about using technology for the sake of it, but about maximising impact and meeting the expectations of staff, volunteers, donors and other stakeholders in the modern world.

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

Whilst it’s wonderful to see some improvements across the board with this year’s report, it is worrying to hear that the vast majority of charities are still not aligning their digital and corporate strategies. For digital transformation to be achieved, a charity’s approach to digital must go hand-in-hand with its strategic goals.

This is not new, it’s the same message we shared in our report on social media use in the sector in 2014 - Growing communities: How charity leaders govern social media globally to thrive online. I would like to see more charity leaders embracing digital technology, and the new capabilities it can bring, in order to really drive and deliver core strategic objectives. The numbers shared in this report speak to the risks of not taking this approach – your people won’t easily make the connection between digital adoption and achieving organisational goals and there is a high potential that your digitally savvy talent will leave for organisations where their skills are put to good use. There’s a real opportunity for charity leaders to step up now and ensure that the 2019 figures are a step change for the sector.

Jemma Waters - Lloyds Banking Group
Digital UK Insight and Partnerships Senior Manager

This report highlights the greatest opportunities available for charities to shift the dial. Explored in our Lloyds Bank Business Digital Index report, 100,000 UK Charities are lacking basic digital skills - this is impacting their ability to connect with volunteers, drive awareness of campaigns and speed up their internal processes

This survey reveals key areas of focus: over half of the charities told us that their digital leadership and digital governance skills are fair to low and there are skills gaps in digital service delivery, agile project management and artificial intelligence.
Just as important as skillset, is mind-set. It is encouraging to see that 46% of respondents acknowledge the need for cultural change to drive innovation and improvement. 63% of respondents also want their leaders to understand digital trends so they can help shift the organisation into the future. In our work with the like-minded members of the DCMS Digital Skills Partnership, we seek to use insights like these to shape free training, support and engagement that can help Charities to make the step change. These are challenging times for the charity sector, and the prospect of digital transformation can be daunting. As this report brings to the fore, it is vital that charity leaders are given the confidence and capability to lead their organisations into the future -  69% of respondents cite their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement. With the Digital Skills Partnership, and the Lloyds Bank Foundation, we hope to facilitate digital leadership programmes and encourage our digital leaders to give face to face support so charities can thrive in an ever digital world.

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IntroductionSector ResponseCharity TrainingSocial ToolkitDigital Toolkit

"While this report shows progress in some areas (notably leadership and basic digital skills), it is too slow given the scale of the demand. We urgently need to accelerate the pace and ambition of change if we are to develop a more resilient, responsive and digitally-enabled social sector. 

Dan Sutch - CAST
C0-Founder & Director

Charities should be leading conversations about how digital impacts the most vulnerable in society, yet instead they risk losing touch with the evolving needs, expectations and behaviours of those very communities they seek to serve. It is another wake-up call for sector leaders and funders to work collaboratively to help organisations of all sizes respond to this urgency, and embed digital across their culture, strategy and governance."

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!

Charity Digital Skills Report image
Charity Digital Skills Report image