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Gilly Challinor, Head of Network Delivery, CAST

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

"The past year has really highlighted and exacerbated the digital divide, where people who were already online prior to COVID could continue to access many charity services. But those people who were previously digitally excluded could no longer access the crucial face to face support from charities that they had relied on before. 

83% of charities have adapted their services, pivoting to remote service delivery, responding in an agile way and developing digital skills and capabilities as a result. But the flip side of this is that digitally excluded service users are now even more isolated and excluded, and this is a key concern for charities: over half (52%) are worried about excluding some people or groups, and 27% say they need more support around digital inclusion.

Head of Network Delivery, CAST


60% of charities now have a strategy in place for digital, an 11% increase on last year. This is a very positive improvement 

Digital strategy


COVID-19 innovation

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COVID-19 digital

Charities have been using digital to reach new people during the pandemic. Almost 8 out of 10 (78%) have deployed digital to speak to new audiences. 


Digital inclusion has become a key issue for the sector. Over half (52%) of charities are worried about excluding some people or groups.  

Digital inclusion


IT challenges

IT has become a barrier. 32% of charities say it’s the biggest hurdle they face to achieving their digital plans. 







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 


60% of charities now have a digital strategy in place
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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83% of charities have started offering online services

"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."

When we went into lockdown in March 2020, charities adapted by offering online services, growing digital fundraising and working remotely. We saw some initial promising signs of this in the 2020 report. In this year’s report we wanted to answer two big questions: ‘Have charities started to embed digital change for the long term or not, and if so what does this tell us about the future of the sector?’ and 'What resources and support do charities need to better use digital to achieve their aims as we emerge from the pandemic?’

The Charity Digital Skills Report is now in its fifth year and is the annual barometer of digital skills, attitudes and support needs across the sector. We’ve tracked how these have changed year on year across the sector and also analysed how other key building blocks in creating the right foundations for digital change are progressing, including understanding user needs, leadership, strategy and governance. 

This year, we’ve redeveloped the survey and asked new questions to uncover the trends in these areas
as well as other topics, such as the future of work and what charities anticipate doing with digital as
we come out of the pandemic.

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.

83% of the charities we spoke to had started offering online services.

Digital priorities

Digital has become a priority. Over two thirds of charities (67%) now see digital as a prime concern for their organisation, with similar numbers planning investment in digital infrastructure.

Digital leadership

CEOs and boards need to offer a clear digital vision. More than half of charities (52%) would like their leadership team to provide this. 

Digital funders

Funders need to up their game with digital funding. Almost half (47%) of charities want to include core digital costs in all applications

Charities need guidance on understanding users. 44% of charities think they are poor at user research to inform new services.

Understanding users

Our report aims to help:

  • Understand the key trends in how charities’ use of digital has changed over the last year, so that you can benchmark your organisation. 
  • Learn how other charities are changing their ways of working and developing their plans for digital as we reach the next phase of the pandemic.
  • Track progress made over the last five years and what this means for the sector.
  • Measure where charities have skills gaps but also what they need from forms of support such as
    funding and learning and development. 

We are pleased to be working with Catalyst again on the report. Catalyst is a collective of individuals and organisations (like charities, funders, agencies and freelancers) helping UK civil society grow in digital. They are building an ecology of interconnected support initiatives, shared infrastructures, learning networks and community spaces that help charities and civil society organisations harness the power of digital, data and design to respond to the changing needs in their communities. The report will be an essential resource for their work helping civil society rebuild from COVID-19 in a more responsive, sustainable, equitable way.

The findings this year do show some positive change in how charities have begun to use digital during the pandemic. 

We’ve seen a lot of adaptation and innovation from charities over the last year and we hope that our findings will help charities to reflect on their progress and compare this in relation to the sector. We also hope that they can better make the case for where support and funding for digital is most needed. Most of all, we hope that charities can continue to harness that creative spirit as they develop their new ways of working, building on the skills and confidence they have gained so they can reach more of the people they support

Wellbeing needs to be a priority. Just under a third of charities (31%) say their staff are burned out from the demands of intense remote working  

Ensuring charities can reach the most vulnerable communities when digital service delivery is on the increase is a pressing need. But there is help out there. The recent digital inclusion panel event run by Catalyst showed the demand for support in this area from charities, but it also showed that there is free support available and there are people and organisations that are campaigning to fix the digital divide. As the sector moves to digital service delivery more and more, we must intentionally watch out for those people that we could be leaving behind."

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