Lords digital advice is out of date, says chief of Small Charities Coalition

At the Navca annual conference, Mandy Johnson says just telling charities to set up web pages does not help them to become digital organisations

Mandy Johnson
Mandy Johnson

Encouraging charities to simply adopt websites or set up social media pages is failing to help them become digital organisations, according to Mandy Johnson, chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition.

Speaking at the annual conference of the infrastructure umbrella body Navca in London yesterday, Johnson queried some of the recommendations about the use of digital technology by charities that featured in the recent report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities.

The report says that all charities except the very smallest should "have a simple website or social media page" and charities should "actively consider including a digital trustee role on their boards".

But Johnson told the conference that this advice was out of date and she was "incredibly frustrated by the state of digital across small charities at the moment".

She said: "What they are advising small charities to do is to get a website and get on social media, but that’s what we should have been advising small charities to do 10 years ago. The world has moved on, and if all we are advising charities to do is to get a website then we’re not encouraging them to become digital.

"For me, digital is about embracing solutions to challenges we are facing. So it absolutely starts with identifying those problems. It is about thinking about the challenges that we are facing collectively through digital technology."

Johnson said that it was vital to get the charity sector to consider the challenges it faced and the solutions that were required.

Also speaking at the conference, Andrew O’Brien, head of policy and engagement at the Charity Finance Group, said Brexit had created opportunities for infrastructure bodies because it had destroyed many politicians’ understanding of the society they represented.

O’Brien said that local and central government had previously been confident in their assumptions about what society wanted, but the "supernova" of Brexit had brought those beliefs into question.

"Brexit has destroyed all of those assumptions, and there is an opportunity for us as a sector to really think about what knowledge we can present about our communities and how we turn that into sustainable business models," he said.

Infrastructure bodies, in particular, could embrace models used by technology platforms such as Google or Facebook and help the government reconnect with communities across the UK, he said.

"I think there is an opportunity for every single local infrastructure body to become a mini-Google in its local area," O’Brien said.

"You know things that no one else is in a position to know. You are trusted by your local communities, and that means you have a great ability to gather information."

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