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Baroness Barran MBE, Minister for 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

“You need to unmute.”  This is a phrase that all of us have become very familiar with in recent weeks and months as we have become familiar with working online and over video calls. The annual Charity Digital Skills report continues to provide invaluable insights into the sector’s evolving uptake and engagement with the opportunities that digital provides - something that nearly all of us have experienced recently.

Coronavirus has fundamentally transformed charities' daily operations and the need to offer digital alternatives for everything from services to fundraising which has proven important now, more than ever. Indeed, this report shows that we are beginning to see some positive indicators of the sector using digital to innovate and adapt to the current crisis, with 66 percent of charities delivering all work remotely and 47 per cent collaborating and sharing digital learnings with others. These are encouraging steps that signal the sector’s adaptability and spirit of collaboration. Last month we announced that the government is developing a new digital strategy, and this is the kind of urgency to adapt and innovate that we want to build on as a positive legacy of this period and to support the UK’s recovery.

Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport


Just over half (51%) of charities still don’t have a strategy for digital (whether that’s a standalone strategy or integrated with the organisational strategy). This is similar to 2019

Digital strategy


COVID-19 progress

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COVID-19 challenges

However, 27% have cancelled services because either their charity or their users don’t have the necessary skills or tech.


Funders need to step up. Over the last year, just under half (48%) of our respondents told us that their charities have not accessed any digital funding. 50% cited lack of funding as the biggest barrier they face to digital progress, similar to last year.

Funders needs to step up


Leadership is needed

Once again charities have cited strong digital leadership as their key need. 67% want their leadership team to offer a clear vision of what digital could help them achieve. This has dropped by 6% from last year but is still the most pressing need amongst charities


Boards must grow digital skills

Most charities (66%) rate their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement, down 2% from 2019. Charities must make developing trustees’ digital skills a priority if they are to build a stronger future post-pandemic





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 


66% of charities rate their board's digital skills as low
Tracey Crouch MP
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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51% of charities don't have a digital strategy

"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."

2020 could be a pivotal moment in how charities embrace digital. As COVID-19 unfolded, charities have had to embrace remote working, digital fundraising and online service delivery as never before.
The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic was one of the key changes we wanted to explore as part of this year’s Charity Digital Skills Report, whilst also measuring what long term changes are taking place behind the scenes. 

This is the fourth year we’ve run the report, our annual barometer of the state of digital skills across the sector. Digital skills are essential for digital evolution. By tracking how these are changing year on year across the sector we are also able to offer insights into how other critical success factors in digital are changing, including strategy, leadership, and governance. The cornerstone of all of this should be how charities are keeping pace with their users’ needs, which are likely to be changing rapidly during this time of wider digital adoption. 

As the sector develops its use of digital further, we have added new questions to the report to explore access to funding and support needs in digital, to measure digital product development skills and to understand how charities are factoring user needs into their digital activities. 

This year Skills Platform and Zoe Amar Digital are delighted to have partnered with Catalyst on the report. Catalyst is a collective of digital agencies, funders and charities based in the UK, which works to improve the digital, data and design capabilities of charities and civil society organisations. Their key activities include sharing best practice, connecting charities to the best placed support, and providing funding. The report will be a valuable resource for their work helping civil society respond to the challenges of COVID-19. 

We hope that our report helps you understand where your charity and the sector are at, strengthening the case for support and investment for digital. Above all, in this year of huge change, we hope our insights will help charities understand how the sector is transforming, step by step, so that it can continue to grow in digital skills and confidence and help more of the people it serves.

Charity Digital Skills Report image
Charity Digital Skills Report image

The pandemic is the biggest cause of digital disruption in the sector this year. COVID-19 has been a push for the sector to embrace digital with the aim of staying relevant, helping more people and developing new ways of working, fundraising and offering services. However, whilst there has been acceleration in some areas of charities’ digital development, there has been little progress in others.

The pandemic is changing how charities use digital. Two thirds (66%) are delivering all work remotely.

Diversity findings

25% say that they need to improve diversity amongst staff with digital responsibilities. We were worried  to see that this has declined from 41% last year, given sector data on diversity.

Understanding users

Just 8% of charities surveyed rate themselves as excellent at this (with 52% saying that they are fair and 39% poor).

Digital fundraising


This is one of the weakest skills for charities, with 45% saying that they are poor at it.

83% say they are fair to poor at digital service delivery (of these, 40% say they are poor), soaring from 60% last year and 53% in 2018. The fact that both fundraising and service delivery are gaps at a time when the sector is so dependent on digital is a worry.

Digital service delivery needs

Yet this report also highlights where we need to go further. For example 27 per cent of charities cancelled services because their organisation or users don’t have the necessary skills or technology, and 25 per cent said they need to improve diversity amongst staff with digital responsibilities. 

Digital skills can be a real lifeline for both organisations and the people and communities they work with, and the government is committed to supporting this agenda. That is why we match-funded £1.6m to support the launch of the Catalyst, a go-to digital support hub for the social sector run by the Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology and its network of partners. My department is also delighted to be supporting the Digital Boost platform, which is providing one-to-one support from digital experts to charities and small businesses in the UK that have been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. These programmes are vital in helping charities seize the benefits of modern technology to develop the skills they need to grow and prosper. 

Over the last few months, charities and wider civil society have worked tirelessly in their efforts to support vulnerable people and communities, and the sector has proven to be one of our greatest strengths. Boosting digital skills and capability will be central in bolstering the resilience of the sector through recovery as civil society continues to play a vital role in helping tackle the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. 

Thank you to everyone who took part in the survey and of course to Zoe Amar and the Skills Platform for producing this timely and insightful report.