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Learnings from the 2020 Charity Digital Skills Report

21 July 2020

How does your charity compare to others in how it uses digital? And at this time of huge change, with more charities embracing remote working, digital communications and online fundraising, what does this mean for the sector?

We’ve been tracking how the sector has been changing before and during the COVID-19 pandemic in the latest Charity Digital Skills Report, the annual barometer of digital skills across the sector, which was launched last week. Spoiler: charities are getting more confident with digital and offering more digital services. This is heartening and we need to celebrate the charities who are taking steps forward with digital, whether large or small, during these exceptionally difficult times.

We created the report with Skills Platform and this year we were delighted to have support from Catalyst, meaning that we could undertake more in-depth analysis and also pivot the report when lockdown happened, adding additional questions to track the impact of the pandemic on the sector and how it was using digital to find a way through it.

Here are the key reflections of the report:

  1. COVID-19 is driving digital change across the charity sector. Two thirds (66%) of respondents are delivering all work remotely. It’s fantastic to see how some organisations have moved online so quickly. In turn, this is opening up new opportunities:  61% will be offering more online services and 47% are collaborating and sharing learning with others around digital. These are all positive indications of how the sector is embracing digital, and offer a tantalising glimpse into what a post-pandemic, more digital sector could potentially look like. However, that will all depend on whether this digital change sticks and how the pandemic unfolds. We will know more on this by the time the 2021 report is launched.
  2. Coronavirus is also a huge challenge to the sector. Not everything can be switched over to digital. 27% of respondents have told us that they have cancelled services because either their charity or their users don’t have the necessary skills or tech. Training staff up and building their confidence in digital takes time. Getting devices and data to beneficiaries requires precious resources. The hope is this year’s report will get the sector talking about the devastating impact of beneficiaries not being able to get online during the crisis, and how this perpetuates inequalities.
  3. We need to approach digital more strategically. One of the stats that gets the most attention each year is the number of charities with a digital strategy. This year just over half (51%) of charities still don’t have a strategy for digital (whether that’s a standalone strategy or integrated within the organisational strategy). This number has barely moved since 2019 and hasn’t varied much in the 4 years that the report has been going. The answer may be about both digital professionals and those in charge of organisational strategy (the executive team and the board) growing their digital skills. Digital strategy is a team sport.
  4. Everything must come back to our users. We need to talk to them even more often than we would do normally, as their wants and needs will be shifting so quickly. Just 8% of charities rate themselves as excellent at this. Even if you just spoke to 5 people amongst your beneficiaries, donors and supporters to understand the problems they are facing you would get a clearer idea of how your digital work could help them at this time.
  5. Our sector desperately needs more digital trustees. Most charities (66%) rate their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement, down 2% from 2019. Boards need people who understand digital and the sector. If you’re interested in becoming a trustee you can look for roles on Reach Volunteering. If you don’t fancy being a trustee, then offering to help brief your board about the digital trends that are emerging from the crisis could help grow their digital skills. 

These are the top 5 things to take away from the report this year. We would love to hear what you think of it and whether it resonates with the changes you have seen in your charity since lockdown began. Join the conversation at #CharityDigiReport.

Image Mikita Yo on Unsplash

Zoe Amar

founder and director, Zoe Amar Digital

Zoe Amar is founder and director of Zoe Amar Digital, a charity marketing and digital communications consultancy who've worked with Action Aid, CAF, Crimestoppers and many other great charities. She also blogs for The Guardian. Zoe shares charity marketing resources over at www.zoeamar.com and @zoeamar