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BY ZOE AMAR & DAVID EVANS

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2018 - FOREWORD
Tracey Crouch, Minister for Sports and Civil Society, and Margot James, Minister for Digital and Creative Industries

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

This government knows that digital is absolutely key to the growth of organisations and communities. It allows them to innovate and demonstrate Britain’s unique culture to the rest of the world. But that is only possible with a digitally skilled workforce. This report shows where we are, and helps us to understand what we need to do to improve digital throughout the charity sector.

We are pleased to see that things are improving. Over a third of charities now say that digital transformation is being led from the top, while 29% of charities are confident in their abilities to innovate and create digital products, up 5% from 2017. Charities are becoming more confident about leading digital change.

But there is still a long way to go if charities are to truly embrace the opportunities digital offers to change lives, fundraise, and reach more supporters. Less than one in three charities have a clear digital strategy. We hope charities will be ambitious about their use of digital and what they can achieve with it. All of this needs leaders to throw their weight behind digital.

When we published the Digital Strategy in 2017, we committed to establishing the Digital Skills Partnership (DSP) to bring together organisations from the public, private, and third sectors to tackle the digital skills challenge in a coherent and collaborative way. We have already seen our industry partners pledge more than four million free digital skills training opportunities. We’re delighted that over two and a half million of these have already been delivered. The DSP has four delivery groups, one of which is specifically focussed on helping SMEs and charities reach digital maturity.

We thank the Skills Platform and Zoe Amar Communications for their thorough analysis of where the sector is at with digital. This report demonstrates the transformative power of digital skills for charities. We hope that charities will see this as an opportunity to make the most of the digital tools that can help them scale up impact, save money and time, and increase their revenues.

Our charities and social enterprises do incredible things for our communities, and increasing digital skills will be vital in helping them to grow and continue that great work.

TRACEY CROUCH MP
Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

Following the interest in our 2017 Charity Digital Skills Report, we wanted to help the sector understand what has changed since last year. 

Once again, we have asked charity professionals about how they’re using digital, mapping digital skills across the sector. We wanted to build a picture of where charities are at with digital, and what the implications are. In particular, we were keen to support charities to:

  • Understand the overall digital trends across the sector, so they can benchmark their organisations.
  • Track progress made since last year’s report and what the implications are.
  • See where the skills gaps are and how these affect the sustainability of the sector.
  • Know how charities are tackling topical digital issues such as GDPR, digital skills on boards and emerging technology. 

Overall this year we have seen progress in some charities’ digital skills, whilst there has been little movement in others. Given the speed of change in digital, is the pace fast enough?

SUMMARY

45% of charities don’t have a digital strategy: An improvement on last year’s figure of 50%.

Strategic Improvement

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GDPR Ready

Almost two thirds (64%) of charities are currently preparing for GDPR and will have everything in place for when it comes into force.

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Funding concerns

A growing number of charities (58%) now see funding as their biggest obstacle, up from 52% last year. It now replaces skills as the greatest barrier to making progress in digital.

Board level change

Despite the significant digital skills gap on the majority of charity boards, 78% of people either don’t know what is being done to change this, or state that their organisations don’t have any plans.

Over a third (36%) say that digital transformation is being led from the top, an increase from 29% last year, but this is still a disappointment.

Just under a third (32%) of charities have a clear strategy for how digital can help achieve their charity’s goals. Whilst this is a very small increase from last year (27%), it indicates that the vast majority of charities are still not aligning their digital and corporate strategies, which is a concern

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Digital allignment

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Leadership expectations

There is a growing expectation that charity leaders must understand trends and how they affect their charities. 63% now want this.

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Digital trustees?

The majority of charities (69%) cite their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement.

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Digital retention

Developing staff and retaining staff has become more of a priority, with 65% stating that developing digital skills would help develop and retain staff (57% last year).

Leadership needed

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There has been a big increase in worries about the lack of the leadership support needed to develop more digital products and services, rising significantly to 51%, up from 42% last year.

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Digital at the top

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Despite self-driving cars, cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence being high on the news agenda, only 14% of charities are planning for how emerging tech could affect their work. It is a huge concern that 73% of charities say that they have low to very low skills in AI, up from 68% last year. By having such a low skill base in this area, charities are likely to miss out.

Falling behind on AI

The same number of charities (28%) as last year still see lack of leadership in digital as a problem.

Leadership problem

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If the way their charity uses digital doesn’t improve, 39% 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, rising from 36% last year.

Digital as a career driver

COMMENTARY

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.

CALLS TO ACTION

Read the Full Report

BACKGROUND

Read the Full Report

ZOE AMAR
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'!

MARTIN BAKER - CHARITY LEARNING CONSORTIUM
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

SECTOR RESPONSE

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 Do-it.org; 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 
 CEO

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
 CEO

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 

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45% of charities don't have a digital strategy
Digital image on computer

MARGOT JAMES MP
Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

Tracey Crouch MP
Margot James
Martin Baker
Skills Platform - Find training courses for your charity

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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"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."