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BY ZOE AMAR & DAVID EVANS

 What could make the biggest difference in helping build a stronger and more sustainable charity sector? Sadly, it’s an area half of charities say isn’t being given enough focus: digital skills. My own charity, Doteveryone, is on a mission to help people unlock the life-changing potential of digital. So naturally, we were all interested to see charities’ online skills mapped out in Skills Platform’s Charity Digital Skills report.

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FOREWORD 

It is encouraging that most respondents to this survey recognise the difference strategic engagement with digital can make to their charities' success. But there is clearly a gap between the awareness of charity professionals, and the skills and engagement of many charity boards. It is of concern that almost three quarters of respondents rate their trustees' digital skills as low or having room for improvement; two thirds fear they will lose out on fundraising opportunities as a result.


1. Work out where digital sits in your business model

Whether it’s reaching more beneficiaries by delivering services online, growing your reputation via social media or saving money and time by automating back office functions, there will be areas of your charity where digital is a priority. Now is the time to ask yourself again what your charity’s value proposition is and to plan how you can use both on and offline channels to best deliver it. 

2. Prepare to shift more of your fundraising online

 Changes to the funding landscape plus the GDPR mean that many charities will be more reliant on digital fundraising. As our report shows, you’ll need to ensure that you’ve got the necessary processes and infrastructure in place, as well as the skills to handle, manage and gather data. Ask yourself what this means for the ask your charity makes to donors and how you can ensure you have the right skills in the building as your fundraising model shifts online. 

3. Plan how to upskill

You may have exciting plans for digital- from digital transformation to a new website to how you communicate with your supporters online. Yet none of it will be possible without making sure your people have the right skills. Few charities can resources all of their digital needs in-house, so your organisation should build a network of skilled experts around it to complement what your staff can do. Map out the current skills you have, then work out where your charity needs to get to and what training and other support needs it has. 

4. Have a frank conversation with your board/leaders about digital

Charity leadership teams and boards are fundamental to progressing with digital. Now is the time to have an honest conversation about where any skills gaps might be at this level, and what support people might need in order to close them.

5. Look at what your audience is doing online

Any charity wondering where to get started in digital only need look to its audience. What channels are they using? What kind of content do they find engaging? Is there scope to fundraise more from these groups? What other services are they using? Benchmarking your charity’s use of digital against others will offer an array of valuable insights.

6. Talk to other charities who’ve been through the same thing

There’s no need to go it alone. Digital will feel much less daunting if you can talk to another charity who are a few steps ahead on the journey and able to share their experiences. 

7. Just get started!

It is so easy to get stuck in analysis paralysis with digital. Try out a new idea; something low risk that you can pilot easily. Every time you test, learn and improve you’ll be that much nearer to digital success.
 

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Charity Digital Skills Report Banner
Martha Lane Fox CBE

Unfortunately, the report’s findings are worrying. More than half of charities (57%) cite a lack of skills as the biggest barrier to getting more from digital, whilst 52% see lack of funding as a threat. Even worse, half of the charities who responded say digital is not being given as much attention as other organisational challenges. There is a terrible irony in seeing digital as a distraction rather than a potential solution to the problems our charities face.

Big changes are coming to fundraising, not least in the form of the GDPR. Charities are aware of the potential here: three quarters (75%) think growing their digital skills would help increase fundraising. Yet at the same time, 61% rate their digital fundraising skills as fair to low. How many more mental health support groups or clinical trials or any other of the great things charities do could be put in place with additional funds raised online? 

Whilst the survey’s results are bleak, there is one positive: a clear opportunity for charities to take on digital transformation. And that transformation must be led from the top - 8 out of 10 charities are looking to their leaders for a clear vision of where digital could take them. If boards and leadership teams don’t start owning the development of their digital skills, more than half of the charities who responded are concerned their organisations will become irrelevant, fall out of touch with their audience, and lose ground to competitors.

I commend Skills Platform and Zoe Amar Communications for mapping charity digital skills so comprehensively here. This report demonstrates why charities must come together to tackle the digital skills agenda, and I urge you to read it so that we can all better understand what will help make our sector more resilient.

Martha Lane Fox CBE

MARTHA LANE FOX CBE

Following the success of The Charity Social Media Toolkit, we were keen to build on this to help charities develop their digital skills. To do this, we wanted to ‘take the temperature’ of charity professionals about how they’re using digital, mapping digital skills across the charity sector, and developing a shared understanding of what digital can help charities do. We wanted to support the sector so that it can:

  • Understand where the sector is at with digital, so that they can benchmark their own organisations.
  • Measure where the skills gaps are and share their views on what effect this could have on the sustainability of the sector.
  • See how digital could help charities seize the opportunities and manage the challenges they face.
  • Gain a granular understanding of charity digital skills that builds on other sector reports such as the Lloyds Digital Index

To offer charities further support in this area, we are also launching The Charity Digital Toolkit in April. This Toolkit showcases best practice, expert insight and practical tips for charities.

Background to the charity Skills report

SUMMARY

50% of charities don’t have a digital strategy. Only 9% have been through digital transformation and embedded it. [Tweet This]

Missing a strategy

image - 50% of charities don't have digital strategy

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Alignment missing

 Just 27% of charities have aligned their digital and organisational strategies and less than 1 in 4 (24%) rate themselves as good at digital product development. [Tweet This]

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Positive signs

Yet some charities are taking steps in the right direction. 59% of charities are working to improve the culture so digital can flourish there, and 39% are on top of how digital trends are affecting their charity’s work and have a plan in place for how to tackle this. [Tweet This]

Digital growth

75% of charities think growing their digital skills would help them increase fundraising, whilst 71% see opportunities to grow its network and 69% to deliver its strategy more effectively. [Tweet This]

Almost three quarters (71%) of charities cite their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement. [Tweet This]

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68% of charities think that digital will change the charity sector to a great extent. This compares to 59% in a recent survey of private and public sector counterparts by Deloitte/MIT. [Tweet This]

A digital future

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Skills & funding are key

57% cite skills and 52% lack of funding as the biggest barriers to getting more from digital. 
[Tweet This]

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Digital not a priority

50% of charities say that other organisational challenges are being given more attention and digital is not seen as a priority. [Tweet This]

Low skills

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61% of charities rate their digital fundraising skills as fair to low, with more charities (69%) rating their digital business development skills as fair to low. Charities could miss out on income unless skills are developed. [Tweet This]

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Leadership needed

80% of respondents want their leadership team to provide a clear vision of digital and what it could help them achieve, whilst 66% want a good digital strategy. [Tweet This]

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Low board skills

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Unless boards and leadership teams develop their digital skills, 66% are worried that they will miss out on opportunities for digital fundraising. If their board and leadership team do not increase their digital skills, more than half are worried about giving competitors an advantage (53%), losing touch with their audience (53%) or their charity becoming irrelevant (53%).

Fear of missing out

86% of respondents want to work for a charity that is progressing in digital
[Tweet This]

Digital attraction

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If their organisation does not engage further with digital, 36% of respondents will either look for a job with a digitally savvy charity or are unsure if they can commit to their role for the long term if their organisation doesn’t make progress with digital. 

Digitally savvy charities

COMMENTARY

Sarah Atkinson - Charity Commision
Director of Policy and Communications

Sarah Atkinson - Charity Commission

All trustees - no matter how large or small their charity - should consider how they can use technology to better meet the needs of their beneficiaries, and how they can apply digital tools make their governance systems more effective. So I encourage boards to use the findings of this survey as a prompt to start the conversation about making digital work for their charities. We know that trustees will have different confidence levels when it comes to digital, and so our guidance ‘Making digital work - 12 questions for trustees to consider’ is an excellent tool to help steer that discussion and help trustees tackle this important issue

CALLS TO ACTION

Read the Full Report

BACKGROUND

Read the Full Report

ZOE AMAR
Director of Zoe Amar Communications

Zurich Municipal’s Digital Skills checklist:

 Knowing where to start can often be the biggest challenge for charities looking to boost their digital skills and seize the opportunities which digital transformation offers. Zurich Municipal has put together a list of 7 simple steps that any charity can take to make themselves digital-ready.

1. Perform a digital skills audit of your organisation: Many charities just don’t know the level of digital skill across their organisation. Performing a simple digital skills audit by surveying all staff will help you identify your organisation’s digital strengths and weaknesses.

2. Appoint a board member for all things digital: When pushing forward digital transformation within your organisation, leadership is key. When starting out, nominating a specific board member to champion a digital culture can make the difference. However, be careful not to create key person dependency – digital shouldn’t be a specialist subject for a limited number of people. Digital should be embedded at every level of your organisation. For more on digital leadership in the charity sector read our blog: 
‘help your charity maximise digital developments’

3. Make sure digital works for all: Digital skills are no longer the preserve of a specialist few. Creating a digital culture that works for all is vital for charities looking to seize the opportunities on offer. Charities should consider how they can engage staff across all levels of their organisation to secure their support for digital transformation. This could be as simple as hosting town hall style meetings to showcase the opportunities digital could bring, practising what you preach and making your internal communications digital, or producing a daily digital brief with helpful hints and tips.

4. Take a strategic approach: Charity boards can often feel daunted by the prospect of writing a digital strategy but embracing digital should be at the centre of any charity’s long term plans. If you feel like you don’t know where to start the Charity Commission, Grant Thornton and Zoe Amar Communications have produced a ‘
Making Digital Work’ guide which sets out 12 questions to help trustees start conversations about how digital can improve the way their organisation works.

5. Digital skills training: Central to any digital transformation will be building up the digital skills base within your organisation. Once you’ve completed your digital skills audit and begun to consider your digital strategy you will have a clear idea about your organisation’s training or recruitment needs. Boosting digital skills or bringing in new talent can help cut costs across central business functions like HR and finance as well as business development. Don’t be put off by the exorbitant costs of face to face training – more affordable approaches such as e-learning or webinars can be just as effective.

6. Get prepared for the risks: The digital revolution can bring a wealth of opportunities but charities also need to prepare for the challenges. Supporters will think twice about setting up standing orders or direct debits with an organisation who they see as vulnerable to cyber-attack. There are a 
wealth of resources available to make sure your organisation is prepared for cyber risks

7. Collaborate: If you want to get the most out of the digital revolution, collaboration will be key. Recent years have seen charities engage with private sector organisations to deliver services and drive fundraising such as Vodafone’s JustTextGiving project. Within the charity sector there are some exciting examples of digital pioneering from organisations of all shapes and sizes. You can get involved and share best practice with groups like Digital Discovery which brings together Zoe Amar Communications, the Charity Commission, Grant Thornton UK and Green Park to create a community of charity leaders dedicated to exploring the opportunities that digital can present.

Zurich Municipal has a host of resources for charities looking to embrace the digital revolution from
working out how digital is your charity to preparing you for new data protection rules due in 2018. For the latest from our expert team check out the Charities and Communities section of our News and Views website.  

AMY BRETTELL - ZURICH MUNICIPAL
Head of Charities, Social Organisations and Health

This report clearly highlights the gap between charities’ digital aspirations and what they’re able to deliver on the ground. It’s a tough climate out there and no surprise that charities find it difficult to prioritise time and resource for their digital development when they’re facing growing demand for their services. As a funder, we have a role to play in helping charities recognise the positive impact digital investment can have and we’ve grown the support we offer charities in this space through our Enable grant programme.

Harriet Stranks - Lloyd's Bank Foundation England & Wales
Director of Grant-Making (North and Wales)

Read the Full Report

SECTOR RESPONSE

Digital technology is transforming every aspect of our lives, from helping us work more efficiently, to reaching our audiences in creative and engaging ways. Charities that invest in their digital strategy are going to be those that survive the turbulent times ahead. It is encouraging that most respondents to this survey recognise the difference strategic engagement with digital can make to their charities' success. But there is clearly a gap between the awareness of charity professionals, and the skills and engagement of many charity boards. 

Lara Burns - Age UK
  Head of Digital

Image of Lara Burns Age UK

Whilst the findings aren't a surprise, it's disheartening  to see how much work needs to be done to move the sector on with becoming more digitally mature. The response certainly demonstrates that there's the willingness to change from many in the sector.

Charity leaders need to understand the compelling argument that they need to get behind becoming digital organisations - it is no longer a 'nice to have option'. Charities that get it will be those who understand that focussing on their users, working differently, being agile and using technology to be more effective will be the key to their survival. Those that don't prioritise this shift will be those that get left behind.

Jamie Ward-Smith - Do-it Trust
  CEO

Image of Jamie Ward Smith

Charities need to up their digital game or risk lagging further behind and missing out on critical opportunities to increase efficiency, reach and revenue. Leaders need to see digital as a high priority area for development and ensure that they have the right skills and knowledge on Boards and in management so they are able to engage with confidence. 

There is a growing range of resources available to help charities on their digital journey, with some offering free information and networking services so my advice is to get out there, get involved and stock up on your knowledge. Saying that digital is not relevant to your service is no longer an option. Even if your current stakeholders are not digitally active, you're simply creating barriers for future stakeholders and therefore risk becoming obsolete.

Funders need to step up too. They have huge potential to influence how charities engage with digital, for example requiring funding bids to outline how digital will be used to deliver services and at the very least using digital themselves to engage with applicants and secure feedback. Funders could follow the Charity Commission's lead of making annual charity return filing digital by default. Whilst this may cause some pain in the short term the sector will adapt in order to comply - the same charities will adapt even more quickly if they know that engaging with digital will help them to access funding too.

Vicky Browning - ACEVO 
 CEO

Image of Vicky Browning ACEVO
Image of Harriet Stranks

Technology is forcing all kinds of organisations to rethink the way they operate. The charity sector is no exception: many charities are evaluating how they organise themselves, raise money, deliver services and collaborate. This isn’t just a digital issue though: it’s not about smartphones, websites or social media. It’s about identifying the tools and culture needed to help the whole organisation completely rethink the way it works so that it can best meet the needs and expectations of beneficiaries.

Digital shouldn’t be confined to fundraising or communications departments: it’s fundamental to service delivery, finance, HR and, ultimately, governance - and that’s where leadership is so important. Charity and social enterprise leaders have a crucial role in identifying and capitalising on the opportunities digital technologies present because only strong leadership can drive change. Business models and digital development can no longer be viewed as separate things. What’s vital now is to recognise the role of technology as a key enabler in helping charities to meet their charitable objectives

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

Carol Rudge image

 These findings should be taken as a call to action for charities. With more than half of those questioned worried about their charities sustainability if their leadership don’t adapt to the digital advancements happening in the sector, it is clear progressive steps still need to be taken. The digital transformation should be seen as an opportunity to reinvent their service offering.

This, along with a board and leadership team who are agile and open to adapting their governance model to suit this new way of working, will distinguish those charities who are able to seize the opportunities available and continue to be successful. Charities need to focus on addressing the digital skills gap. Many charities, and organisations in general, are still limited in their digital experience in their board and leadership teams and also within their broader employee base. Charities should consider recruiting trustees with digital experience to share their expertise but also to assist with a change in thinking within the organisation. Investing in mentoring to help their existing workforce would also be a big step towards helping remove the current barrier digital skills presents to many charities

Read the Full Report

Mandy Johnson
 Digital Expert

Mandy Johnson Image

 Sadly I was not surprised by these results - I knew the situation was bad - but seeing everything in black and white was both shocking and distressing. The lack of progress and digital skills in the sector puts many organisations at risk. I don't know how organisations expect to survive in the digital world that we live in if they are not adapting accordingly.

 Digital fundraising provides such a huge opportunity for the sector. It can be faster, cheaper and far easier to tailor your messages to better suit your donors. If charities that do mass fundraising are falling behind in this area they are missing the opportunity to communicate with supporters on the platforms they are familiar with in a way that can drive real actions and engagement.

The low level of skills in managing and handling data looks like a huge opportunity (as well as a potential threat) to the sector. It is essential that we are all up to speed in data protection...especially with GDPR lurking round the corner. But data should also be viewed as exciting. Data allows us to understand our supporters, better cater to their needs and predict their behaviour. It is something to be appreciated and celebrated - the survey results show that we desperately need more people who understand and embrace this in the sector.

Heidi Travis - Sue Ryder
 Chief Executive

At Sue Ryder we recognise the findings of the report and that charities have to be increasingly innovative in order to secure funding, improve services and remain relevant.

We’re always looking for ways to do things Better, Simpler and Smarter and over the last year digital transformation has been a key part of our strategy. We’ve embarked on several new projects including trialing contactless donations, digital data capture for visitors to our hospices and a programme of digital upskilling for key teams across the organisation

Heidi Travis
Overview

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Amy Brettell - Zurich Municipal 
Head of Charities, Social Organisations and Health

New technology and the growth of data mean that digital skills are becoming an essential part of any organisation’s strategy. Private sector organisations are investing billions in training their workforce and the Government is not far behind, launching its own ‘digital strategy’ last month. The charity sector must act now to get its house in order to ensure it is not left behind

This latest Charity Digital Skills report highlights some of the risks posed to the third sector by a lack of digital skills. The report paints a bleak picture with 53% of respondents predicting a digital skills deficit could lead to their charity becoming irrelevant. “Without appropriate digital skills in fundraising and business development charities face a raft of risks from missed income to cyber-attack and reputational damage.

However the digital revolution brings a host of opportunities. Findings from the Charity Digital Skills report could be overwhelming for charities who know they have to take digital skills seriously; however, some simple steps can make a big difference.

Joe Freeman - Breast Cancer Now
Assistant Director of Digital

Martha Lane Fox CBE

This survey's results are sobering. Charities across the UK do extraordinary, life-changing work - but unless they engage with digital, they'll struggle to fundraise, stay relevant, and remain competitive. Building digital skills starts with leadership, and so I urge charity leaders to develop their own digital knowledge alongside their teams.

Martha Lane Fox CBE - Dot Everyone
Executive Chair

Image of Joe Freeman

Digital is now so embedded in how we live our lives and it’s worrying to read that it’s not seen as a priority within many organisations. The opportunities of digital engagement are hugely exciting and the charity sector will run the risk of limiting the effectiveness of what we do if we do not fully embrace it.

 Whilst adaptation to new ways of working may take time, it is key that the sector works together to build a stronger focus on digital leadership, recognises that digital is more than websites and social media, and that individual charities establish exactly what ‘digital transformation’ means for them.

David Lale - Charity People
 Founder & Head of Digital

In a market where the best digital candidates are highly sought after by both the commercial and charity sectors, it is absolutely vital that they are confident that their contribution will make a tangible difference. Charity leaders need to make the investment in clarifying their strategic goals, and the role for digital in support of these, or they will struggle to recruit the best people

Image of David Lale