Why I choose digital maturity over digital transformation

The charity sector's digital know-how is improving gradually and we need to measure the change, says Breast Cancer Care's Jo Wolfe

Jo Wolfe
Jo Wolfe

How do you know your work has value? If you sold ice creams for a living, it would be simple – do people come back for a second scoop? In charities, it’s more complicated. Income is only one part of the story and there’s never enough Neapolitan to go around. Complex key performance indicators are needed to measure the impact of services on beneficiaries.

In digital, we often focus on the big numbers – website visitors and other vanity metrics. These are the hundreds and thousands on the ice cream. Lovely, but not enough by themselves. More substantially, we measure fundraising income, campaigns sign-ups, information downloads. Those have even more value than a Calippo on a hot summer’s day.

We also have the tricky job of adapting our charities to a digital world. It’s change management at its most extreme – as soon as we get buy in, technology and best practice change again. We risk being "disrupted" and left behind. Time to get the blender out and turn that ice cream into a milkshake.

Why digital maturity?

Maturity implies progress along a continuum, rather than a radical transformation. Do we expect charities to emerge butterfly-like from their digital chrysalises having transformed from luddite caterpillars? It’s contrary to what we know of a sector where change is often slow. Digital advancement isn’t a binary switch from 0 to 1. It requires incremental improvement.

In recent years, a seemingly infinite number of articles and reports have been published on digital transformation. Their content was by turns motivating and depressing. If charities don’t invest, improve skills, and develop more tech they’ll cease to exist. Or be replaced by startups like Uber.

I don’t think the handwringing is working. For one thing, the reports are sponsored by agencies who profit when charities invest in digital transformation. For another, this reactionary thinking belies the work of digital teams in many charities. An increase in digital maturity is already happening in charities like the one I work for − Breast Cancer Care.

Where can we see digital maturity in action?

The penny has dropped that people of all ages will seek support online. Tech funders are stepping up, like CAST, who are working on a tech for good project with Breast Cancer Care. Dementia Citizens is another great example of the digital services trend.

Digital fundraising might be one of the most debated phrases after digital transformation, but significant income is now coming through online. That's vital when direct mail is flat-lining and regulation looms. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is inspiring in this space.

What if you can’t get digital investment in your charity?

It’s easy to complain that others ‘don’t get digital’, but charities are turning that paradigm around:

1. Start by proving the value in what you do by measuring your current state

2. Make as many cost neutral improvements as you can to demonstrate impact

3. Use your success to build relationships with senior management. Check out Digital Leadership for tips

4. Make a case for gradual investment based on results

5. Ensure you have the right team in place to deliver change

6. Continue to focus on results, develop your offer and iterate based on data

Can we really measure digital maturity?

Along with a colleague, I developed the Third Sector Digital Maturity Matrix to measure the impact of our work. Our self-assessment tool allows any charity to understand their maturity against their aspiration for one year in the future (thanks to Diabetes UK, MSF and Stroke Association who piloted the tool).

Figure 1 Breast Cancer Care Digital Maturity Matrix. Current state 31% / Aspiration 56%

If we quantify our current digital maturity we can better advocate for ourselves as digital professionals, and make the case to senior management for investment. We can also track our progress over time as we address gaps.

Perhaps an agency or sector body would like to take over the Maturity Matrix to track the increase in digital maturity across the sector? Then we might have a better idea of the pace of change and real barriers to maturity.

Where digital maturity is concerned, there will always be more work to do. In many charities, the good work has at least begun and we can start to measure its value. Let’s all celebrate that with an ice cream.

Jo Wolfe is assistant director, digital, at Breast Cancer Care

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