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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 2021


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

‘"15 months on from the first lockdown, 73% of charities in the Digital Skills survey report that they plan to continue delivering some form of digital service, and 2/3 see digital as a priority. This is significant when paired with the basic barriers to digital uptake reported in the survey. Funders should nurture this process and support not-for-profits to embed digital into their work through core funding of digital basics, such as IT infrastructure and skills. This will lay the foundation for not-for-profits to move forward in more strategic, creative arenas which increasingly feature in strategy aims; such as undertaking user research, thinking about digital service delivery, as well as more advanced data use.
The findings in this report reflect our Tech for Good funding round in 2021 (which offered cash as well as  access to high-quality, intensive digital expertise): we had a record amount of applications from 361 UK organisations seeking to strengthen their service delivery with a digital offer. This is a critical moment for the sector to mobilise resources, infrastructure and collaborate around meeting this unmet need.
Excitingly, the survey shows that digital is being used to effectively reach new audiences. Yet confidence around digital marketing is comparatively low: effective support, understanding and leadership around this area will allow organisations to understand more intentionally who they are including – and excluding.
I'm also pleased to see statistics around confidence in digital safeguarding crucially captured here for the first time. Although the basic principles of safeguarding remain the same across settings, knowing that not-for-profits need support thinking through how to keep people and staff safe in a digital context as part of more mainstream work is incredibly valuable to funders and the wider sector."

Dalia Abu Yassien - Comic Relief
Portfolio Manager, Social Tech


Read the Full Report


45% of charities don't have a digital strategy
Martin Baker
Image of Dalia Abu Yassien -  Portfolio Manager Social Tech at Comic Relief
© 2021 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



Image of Rhodri Davies - CAF
Image of Zoe Amar

Zoe Amar
Founder of Zoe Amar Digital

1. Charities have shown innovation and adaptability during the pandemic, with 83% changing their services in response to  demand and close to 8 out of 10 (78%) using digital to reach new audiences. We encourage charities to reflect, evaluate
and learn from what has worked and what could have been developed from the last year and factor this into your digital plans.

2. Digital inclusion has become a major issue for the sector during the pandemic, with just over half (52%) of charities worried about excluding some people or groups. Organisations such as The Good Things Foundation and FutureDotNow can help charities, but further investment is also needed by funders so that charities can continue supporting their communities with training, devices and data.

3. Look at how you can improve remote working so that your colleagues’ wellbeing is a priority. Just under a third of
charities (31%) say their staff are burned out from the demands of intense remote working. Whether it’s limiting the amount of time staff spend on video calls, mandating time off or changing your expectations of colleagues, review how you work and plan how to make it more effective, productive and motivating for everyone.

4. 60% of charities now have a strategy in place for digital, which is a positive improvement on last year. We believe charities need to approach digital strategically and that they need support from their board to do this. Those who don’t have this in place may benefit from support so they can develop their post pandemic digital game plans.

5. It’s encouraging to see that over two thirds of charities (67%) now see digital as a priority for their organisation, with
similar numbers planning investment in digital infrastructure. As charities look to ramp up their use of digital further, we
encourage you to develop clear criteria for making decisions for prioritisation in order to make the right choices that
ensure sustainability.

6. Using data more effectively is now a key priority for charities. Charities can grow their skills in this area by connecting with organisations such as DataKind UK and the Data Collective.

7. IT is now the biggest barrier for charities’ digital progress and we recommend that charities tap into the support and
communities offered by Catalyst and Charity Digital to help. This requires significant investment and funders have a vital role to play here.

8. Funders need to up their game with digital funding. Almost half (47%) of charities want to include core digital costs in all
applications and there is a clear need from charities in this year’s report for additional support from funders, such as guidance and training. Funders should step up to meet these demands.

9. For the third year running, charities have told us that their most important need from their leadership team is a clear vision for digital. Leaders either need to provide this or they must seek out training and support to help them develop this.

10. There’s further work to be done on understanding user needs. 44% of charities think they are poor at user research to inform new services, which hasn’t changed since 2020, whilst a third (33%) say that they are either poor at knowing or don’t
know if their products are accessible to users. There are resources available on 
to help charities develop their work so that it meets user needs..


Read how charity sector leaders feel about the report and their views on the state of charity digital skills in 2021.

Commentary provided by:


“As part of the conversations we have with foundations on Covid, we’ve been reflecting on how – whether they realise it or not – many foundations will now be supporting digital projects given how many charity services have moved online this year. So whether they are a core funder or funding projects, whether they are an arts funder or a mental health funder, they will inevitably be a digital funder.

Image of Carol Mack OBE - CEO of ACF (Association of Charitable Foundations)

“This year’s Charity Digital Report provides great insight into how the importance of digital is growing in the sector with 60% of charities now having a strategy in place for digital. This is a very positive increase from 2020, when just under half, or 49% of charities had a digital strategy in place. This is emphasised by the fact that charities see improving their digital channels as their top priority for the next year.    
There are many helpful pointers, and it shines a light to charities recognising data being a big concern this year, with getting more from their data rising from second to first place. This acknowledgement is growing with just under half (47%) seeing it as key. Now more than ever, it is crucial that charities work in partnership with the private sector to build the right digital solutions and the ways of working, given using, managing and analysing data is still a skills gap.”

Ursula Dolton - British Heart Foundation
Chief Technology Officer

Image of Ursula Dolton, CTO, British Heart Foundation


Vicky Browning - ACEVO

"Good data use comes through as a really important theme in this year’s survey. Using data more effectively comes out as a top priority among charities - second only to improving their digital channels. Digital has been a real area of growth for the sector, as we’d expect in the pandemic, but what we are seeing now is a growing understanding that digital service provision can and should go hand in hand with data-informed practices, if organisations are to really improve their services and maximise their impact.

Image of Vicky Browning - CEO, ACEVO

"It’s encouraging to see how the sector has adapted and embraced digital during the past year, with basic digital skills improving, and digital strategy becoming more of a priority.
Despite this, digital skills remain to be a significant challenge, alongside a clear need to improve access to digital resources for service users.
The past year has been a wake-up call for our sector, and while it has responded really well, more support from funders is needed if we are to maintain momentum in the digital space. Only by working together as funders can we achieve this and enable the step change that’s needed."

Jamie Ward-Smith - Co-op Foundation

Image of  Jamie Ward-Smith - Chair - Co-op Foundation

"Nearly 18 months after the onset of the pandemic and at a time when the charity sector is focusing on recovery it’s fascinating to see the progress that has been made and the challenges that remain.  The positives include the increasing number of charities with a digital strategy, major improvements in basic digital skills and progress on digital service delivery. 

However, it is clear that funding for digital remains an issue and though some funders are supportive more help is required. Linked to this are the very real concerns about

Image of Jonathan Chevallier, CEO of Charity Digital

Jonathan Chevallier - Charity Digital

“For me, the standout stat from this years’ Charity Digital Skills Report is that a whopping 92% say that it is either very important or important for them to work for an organisation that is actively developing digital skills and capabilities. Yet, only two thirds (67%) see digital as a priority for their organisation and have plans to invest more in digital skills (63%). A warning sign perhaps to all charity leaders that to retain existing team members and attract new, quality candidates in the future, they need to actively demonstrate their commitment to digital and provide training and knowledge-sharing opportunities for their employees.

Image of Sally Falvey, Head of Corporate Marketing, Blackbaud and JustGiving

Sally Falvey - Blackbaud and JustGiving
 Head of Corporate Marketing

"Last year’s report confirmed that charities needed a concerted effort by funders to support them with digital. As charities continue to make digital more of a priority and plan to invest further in the coming year, this concerted effort must continue alongside coordinated effort. Funders across the UK will have done more digital grantmaking in 2020-2021 than ever before and have been learning a huge amount as they go. This report demonstrates the need for funders to think strategically and collaboratively about how they approach this next. The findings are helpful in demonstrating the wide range of issue areas arising, from digital inclusion to service design to responsible technology. This serves as a reminder that funders need to be communicating, collaborating and aligning around how they fund digital moving forward, ensuring careful consideration of who is best placed to fund in what area, and that a diversity of needs and opportunity areas are being met long-term. 

Beyond funding, we echo the call for funders to consider their ‘funder plus’ offer. Dedicated support contracts that provide grantees with mentoring, guidance, technical expertise and design support alongside their grant funding have been a crucial element to all of our digital funding programmes. We know from the grantholders we work with how important this is for their continued progress in their digital journeys, as well as in ours. 

As we look back over this past year, we see how many aspects of people’s relationship with digital technologies and culture have changed. As we see in this report, use of digital has accelerated for many, whilst others have been excluded from this process. Thinking ahead to next year, we wonder what more we will see in terms of how people and communities are involved in the design and development of digital tools, products and services. In this year’s report we were delighted to see evidence of an increased appetite to understand the people that charities support. 

Whilst the report shows that limitations around user research skills continue, we welcome the increasing recognition that understanding people’s changing needs, behaviours and expectations is a vital skill for digital development, design and delivery. Over the next year, it will be interesting to see whether the widespread understanding of what constitutes ‘digital skills’ evolves and expands, so that we’re thinking both about how communities are using technology and the opportunities for communities to shape technology."

Beth Bell & Melissa Ray - National Lottery Community Fund
Digital Fund Team

Image of  Liz Williams MBE, CEO, FutureDotNow

Carol Rudge - HW Fisher LLP 
Partner, Head of Not for Profit

"The Charity Digital Skills Report comes at an interesting time as charities start to (hopefully) emerge from the pandemic. It is great news that 60% of charities now have digital strategies in place and it will be important that the overall strategy for the charity is revisited in the short term ensuring that any positive learnings are built into the future 

Carol Rudge – Partner, Head of Not for Profit at HW Fisher LLP

What’s key is that, given digital delivery is going to become a major part of the norm, digital funding becomes intentional and thought through rather than just by default, and that foundations develop awareness and skills at assessing what good digital projects look like.

“So this Charity Digital Skills Report is incredibly timely – capturing charities’ digital progress and future plans just at the point when things are about to change again. While painting a picture of digital success, the report is clear-eyed about the challenges; concerns around digital inclusion, safeguarding, and understanding how digital services are actually used.”

Digital Candle from Platypus Digital, supported by Catalyst, is a fantastic initiative for any charity looking for free digital advice, and a quick way for any organisation to help their colleagues access peer-to-peer support. 

And when you consider that only 7% plan to return their office or usual workplace, and 68% are planning for a hybrid model in their working arrangements, it’s clear that investing in the right tech and the development of digital skills will be essential in embracing a blend of working styles. This will cater to a much broader demographic and charities that makes these investments now will bring previously untapped talent into their world, creating a more inclusive and diverse workforce.”

direction of the charity taking into account both the new ways of working and also delivering

services. It is equally encouraging to see that 67% of charities see digital as a priority however as the most urgent need noted is for the CEO and the board to provide a clear vision of what digital could help the charity to achieve, it would be worth challenging whether greater training is required to help drive this forwards. The survey makes it clear that whilst the direction of travel is positive, more than half of the charities believe the board has low digital skills or room for improvement. Perhaps this needs to be a focus area for boards moving forwards both through training and the skills mix on the board?

Congratulations to the team for producing another thought provoking report."

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen charity leaders making innovative use of digital in their organisations to adapt their services and keep reaching the communities they serve. The Charity Digital Skills report shows that 67% of charities now see digital as a priority for their organisation, and that 78% of charities have used digital to reach new audiences.

groups of users being digital excluded due to a lack of skills, digital access (devices and data) or poor solution accessibility. This is an area gaining increasing attention and hopefully progress will be seen over the next year. 

In terms of the digital skills of charities it is interesting to note that as they are becoming more digital many are realising that they need to increase their knowledge of their users. As a result it’s not surprising to see getting more from data rising to be a top priority this year. More concerning is the lack of improvement in digital fundraising skills. Given the loss of so much face to face fundraising income since 2020, and the availability of free training and resources, I would have expected this to have progressed significantly. Though 2022 should see some improvements in physical events many charities will still have financial challenges and I’d encourage them to focus more on using the free resources to improve their digital fundraising.

Finally the report highlights a need for compassionate management after a very challenging period.  With many staff feeling burnt out and much work still to do,  supporting the recovery of those staff is going to be critical to the sector continuing to progress digitally."

Giselle Cory - DataKind UK
 Executive Director

Image of Giselle Cory - Executive Director of DataKind UK


But the survey also shows that there is a big skills gap in using, managing and analysing data. When it comes to these skills, most respondents rate their organisations as poor or fair, and the outlook for advanced data skills was even worse. This isn’t surprising. DataKind UK supports charities to make more effective use of data and data science, and every day we see the scale of the challenge that many charities are facing - lack of investment, lack of senior buy-in, fear of misstepping - all looming large.

But there’s a positive note here too. The survey shows that organisations have an appetite to do more data work - and the majority plan to invest more in data skills and infrastructure. This is brilliant news, as these investments are likely to pay dividends in the form of better services, a better understanding of what works and ultimately a more impactful charity sector."

However, 14% don’t have anyone pushing forward with digital, and over half of charities (57%) 

say their boards have either low digital skills or room for improvement. Digital inclusion is also a real issue, with 22% of charities cancelling services because service users do not have the technology to engage. 

This research shows that there is a clear appetite for stronger digital leadership, with 52% of charities saying they would like CEOs and boards to provide a clear vision of what digital could help them achieve. We encourage all charity leaders to explore with their boards and teams how to embed inclusive digital working in their strategic planning.”

"This important report delves into both the digital capabilities of the charity sector and the people they support.  It starkly highlights the lack of digital skills and confidence charities see among their beneficiaries and the risk this presents to digital transformation and adoption.  It’s a further rallying cry for concerted action to get everyone up to the digital skills starting line, equipped with at least the Essential Digital Skills, and enable the UK to realise it’s ambitions as a digital nation."

Liz Williams MBE - FutureDotNow

Image of  Liz Williams MBE, CEO, FutureDotNow
Image of  Liz Williams MBE, CEO, FutureDotNow
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