Charities struggling to make progress on digital, survey shows

The Charity Digital Skills Report 2019 shows the sector has gone backwards in some areas over the past year

Charities are struggling to make progress or are going backwards in their use of digital, according to the results of an annual survey published today.

Charity Digital Skills Report 2019 reveals that 52 per cent of organisations do not have digital strategies, compared with 45 per cent in 2018 and 50 per cent in 2017.

The report also reveals that 68 per cent of the 540 respondents rate their board's digital skills as low.

And just 23 per cent believe their organisations have clear strategies for how digital can help achieve their goals, compared with 32 per cent last year.

The survey, which provides an annual overview of the state of digital skills in the charity sector, was conducted for a third year by the Skills Platform, which sources training consultants and is hosted by the sector skills council Skills for Health, in partnership with the agency Zoe Amar Digital. It received no funding.

Many charities appear willing to embrace digital but lack funding and skills, the survey shows.

Asked to name their priorities over the next 12 months, the most popular answer with 67 per cent was using digital to increase their impact.

But 56 per cent described funding as the biggest barrier to their charity getting the most from digital, compared with 58 per cent last year.

Only 9 per cent said Brexit had affected what they do digitally.

Zoe Amar, director of Zoe Amar Digital, said the slow pace of change and decline of overall progress needed urgent attention.

"Funders need to step up because the report shows the need is growing across the sector and funding has remained the biggest challenge every year," said Amar.

"Perhaps charities could also benefit from more support to demonstrate social impact and the meaningful value digital brings, otherwise the sector is at risk of being left behind."

Jamie Ward-Smith, chair of the Co-op Foundation, which co-funds the Charity Digital Code of Practice, said charities were missing out on financial digital benefits.

"For example, in a climate where online giving is increasingly the norm, far too many small charities still have no online donation option, which means they are excluding many future supporters," he said.

The report says "the overwhelming majority of charities want their leaders to offer a clear vision of what digital could help their charity achieve".

Vicky Browning, chief executive of the charity leaders body Acevo, said the survey data revealed that many leaders regarded improving their digital performance as increasingly important, which was encouraging.

But she said: "The data on governance shows that more work is needed on recruiting trustees with good digital skills."

Margot James, the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, and Mims Davies, the Minister for Sport and Civil Society, said in a joint foreword to the report that many charities "are struggling to use digital tools strategically, which is impacting the growth of the sector".

They added that the £1m digital leadership fund, launched last year by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, was supporting the growth of basic digital skills in the charity sector and encouraging leaders to embed digital in their organisations' strategy and values.

Survey participants replied to a request to take part sent by Amar on social media.

The report is available here.

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