Last week we launched The Charity Digital Skills Report with Skills Platform, which mapped digital skills across the UK charity sector. The results are a real concern, with 50 per cent of charities reporting that they don’t have a digital strategy and the same number stating that other organisational challenges are seen as a higher priority than digital.
One of the biggest insights from the report was how hungry charities across the sector are for stronger digital leadership. This is also true of boards. Almost three quarters (71 per cent) of charities say their trustees’ digital skills are low or have room for improvement. And unless boards and leadership teams develop their digital skills, 66 per cent of charities are worried that they will miss out on opportunities for digital fundraising. More than half are worried about giving competitors an advantage (53 per cent), about losing touch with their audiences (53 per cent) or about their charities becoming irrelevant (53 per cent).
The message is clear: there are significant risks for charities – and the sector overall – if it doesn’t ramp up its use of digital. This must be driven by leaders. The good news is that this is also a brilliant opportunity if charities treat it as one. This mirrors the findings of the Lloyds Bank UK Business Digital Index last year, which said that digitally mature charities are 28 per cent more likely to report an increase in funding than those that aren’t.
So what should every charity leader do to guard against the risks highlighted by the report?
- Benchmark your charity. One chief executive told me that she’ll be taking the findings to her weekly leadership team meeting to have a frank discussion about how her organisation compares. Use it as a tool to discuss opportunities and challenges in digital.
- Talk to your chair. The report highlighted a significant digital skills gap on boards. Chairs, as well as chief executives, must look at how they can change this. Does your board skills audit include digital? Do your trustees need training? Do you need to hire a digital trustee?
- Be bold and ambitious. McKinsey’s report earlier this year revealed that organisations that follow this approach experience much greater returns from digital. I’ve seen the same pattern across charities. Don’t just aim for a website that’s as good as that of a charity similar charity to yours. Look at what you could do better than them online by playing to your strengths.
- Get a mentor. Pick up the phone to another charity that is further along the digital journey and ask its chief executive to mentor you. Our report shows that more than half (52 per cent) of charities prefer to learn about digital this way. It’s underrated, but effective.
- Build it into your strategy. Digital is not an add-on. It must be factored into your strategy. Make sure that you use your digital team as a sounding board on this.
Our report shows that the sector has its work cut out with digital, and staff are looking to their leaders for guidance. But with changes to fundraising ahead, the Genderal Data Protection Regulation looming and article 50 being triggered this week, time is of the essence. Charity leaders who forge ahead with digital now will ready their organisations for whatever the future throws at it.
Zoe Amar is the founder of the digital and marketing consultancy Zoe Amar Communications