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Will digital illiteracy damage the sector?

30 March 2012

“The current lack of understanding of digital is a risk to the sector.”

That was the blunt statement that made a room full of senior digital comms professionals catch its collective breath for a moment before the silence was broken by murmurs of agreement.

Around 40 digital comms managers from some of the UK’s largest charities gathered at the CharityComms/Cogapp Heads of Digital Networking Event last night to discuss the state of digital literacy within the sector.

The sense that this was as almost as much a support group as a networking evening underlined the recognition of the common issues and challenges facing all charities trying to embrace digital.

A host of valuable points were raised during the discussion – enough to feed a weekly digital group therapy session for at least a year – but I pulled out eight key themes that deserve further exploration.

  1. Leadership at the highest level is necessary – but not sufficient
  2. Understanding at the highest level is necessary – but not easy
  3. Entrenched cultures and attitudes stand in the way of innovation
  4. Digital managers need to gain trust, influence and – crucially – budget
  5. Expectations around digital’s ability to deliver need managing. It’s not destined to fail but neither is it a miracle cure-all. And it’s definitely not free.
  6. Simply creating a new silo for digital to sit alongside existing functional silos won’t help
  7. User experience should be at the heart of all digital development
  8. Digital literacy needs to be viewed as a core competency across the organisation

For more on the issues that were discussed, read Katie Smith's post on why digital literacy in the thrid sector matters, Alison McCormack's excellent round up of the evening, or Laila Takeh's advice on building digital literacy within your charity.

Early results from a survey CharityComms is conducting into perceptions of digital literacy in charities bear out the warning about the risk to charities of not moving quickly enough to embrace digital. While there are areas where digital has helped to deliver successful outcomes – notably in campaigns and marketing/PR – those surveyed believe the current level of digital literacy is hampering charities, particularly within fundraising, but also in advocacy and service delivery.

Over the coming months, CharityComms will be working to try and address some of these key strategic challenges individuals and organisations face when trying to operationalise digital media effectively. We’ll be exploring some of these themes in our Strategic Digital Comms Seminar on 12 July. And don’t worry if it all gets a bit much – we’ll have trained support counselors there for you in the breaks.

Vicky Browning


Vicky became CEO of ACEVO, the charity and social leaders’ network, in January 2017, helping to empower our inspiring sector leaders to make the biggest difference they can to their beneficiaries, their organisation and to society. Vicky was previously CharityComms’ director for nearly seven years.