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What the Charity Digital Skills Report tells us about driving digital change

27 March 2018

Our second Charity Digital Skills Report, which we launched recently with Skills Platform, maps digital skills across the sector. In doing so, it reveals the hopes and fears charities have for their future.

Over the last year, there have been some positive developments in the way charities drive digital change. More charities (15%) have been through the digital transformation process and embedded it, compared to 9% last year. 45% are on top of how digital trends are affecting their charity’s work and have a plan in place for how to tackle this, which is up from 39% in 2017. Over a third (36%) say digital transformation is being led from the top, an increase from 29% last year.

Yet there are plenty of worrying findings in the rest of the report. The same number of charities (28%) as last year still see lack of leadership in digital as a problem. 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. The majority of charities (69%) cite their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement, an improvement of 2% on last year.

Based on these findings, its clear charities need to prioritise the way digital development and innovation is led in organisations. These are my two observations:

  1. All charity leaders need to do just that – lead. They must provide the digital vision and the plan to get there for their organisations. Digital isn’t just the job of the comms or digital team. Leaders are ultimately accountable for how their charity deploys digital.
  2. Leaders need to add value in digital. The comms or digital team will be delivering it day to day, but charity leaders must engage and not leave digital teams unsupported. They have a tremendous role to play championing new digital initiatives, guiding the executive, and creating the right culture for innovation. Providing financial investment is great, but if they can also show they are committed to evolving the charity so it’s ready for the digital age. Are they prepared to live the values and make the difficult decisions needed to see this through?

These responsibilities run right the way through the board, senior management team and CEO.

I’ve met people who think only large charities with six figure digital budgets have the luxury of these choices. Yes, resources help, but as someone who worked for a small charity for five years, I know you can still get a lot done provided you have a good strategy.

Take the Small Charities Coalition, a small organisation itself, yet it really punches above its weight. Since Mandy Johnson joined as the new CEO last year, she has developed a project to help digitise the helpline, launched an online tool to help charities with GDPR and uses social channels to amplify the work of the small charities it supports. All of this is based on a deep understanding of what these organisations need. It’s refreshing to see a charity CEO using their role to continually learn more about what would really help its stakeholders. Small Charities Coalition shows that leadership is the critical component in digital transformation.


Moving on to a larger organisation, Marie Curie has recently been on a journey to transform for digital. What I like about this charity’s approach is the momentum behind the project. The journey began years ago when it undertook a strategic review of digital and started lots of activities to deliver its strategy, from a mobile responsive website, to digitising its campaigns. The charity built on this by developing a digital campaign tool to make community fundraising more efficient, optimised online journeys and worked hard to provide a better fundraiser experience for mass participation events. If you’re on a tight budget, take a leaf out of Marie Curie’s book and identify the key areas which are really going to help your charity move forward with digital, then invest the time to test, learn and improve.

For the charities that don’t think their organisations are committed to digital or worried about the pace of change, here are the things you can do to build momentum in your organisation and take digital to the next level:

  1. Recruit a digital trustee. Reach Volunteering have a brilliant programme to do this.
  2. Education. Offer to brief senior staff on the latest digital trends. Could you help mentor one of them?
  3. Skill up the digital team. They may need extra support to help them be more resilient. Change is hard. They may also need training in wider strategy skills, such as how to build a strong business case, spot opportunities that will give their charity competitive advantage, and how to influence leaders so that they support them.

As our report demonstrates, the sector needs to do things differently to drive digital change, and much of it is down to our leaders. Comms and digital teams can help them by offering guidance and support, demystifying digital and asking the questions that will get them thinking. We hope charities will use the report as a tool to evaluate where they are, and what they need to do next to thrive online.

Read The Charity Digital Skills Report

Image: Zoe Amar and Skills Platform

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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 and @zoeamar