Matt Collins: Time to make some digital noise

To make sure digital is at the centre of what we do, we need to make loud examples of our digital teams, writes our guest columnist

Matt Collins
Matt Collins

The Lloyds Bank UK Business Digital Index 2017 was published last week. It showed a fast growing gap between the haves and have-nots in the charity digital space:

  • The proportion of charities with the highest digital capability has increased by 3 percentage points to 21 per cent.
  • But one in three charities don’t see being online as relevant.
  • The number of organisations with all five basic digital skills has actually decreased.

Statistics like this can make the future seem bleak for the many, even if the few digitally mature charities are twice as likely to report an increase in donations.

I think it’s time move the conversation forward. The evidence is there for the benefits of charities using digital. It has been for a long time. We should move on from saying the situation is bad and paint a clear, detailed detailed picture of good with the steps needed to get there.

In five years' time

The Apple co-founder Steve Jobs often quoted the ice hockey player Wayne Gretsky, who said that his success was down to skating where the puck was going, not where it had been.

In five years, senior managers and boards will have been shown why digital is where the puck is going.

They’ll create internal groups to write digital training courses for existing teams. They’ll find money (writing actual funding bids if necessary) to create highly skilled new digital teams with product managers, user-experience designers and sharp digital marketers.

They'll also have been shown that thousands of people are actively searching for their charity’s help online every day. They’ll see them as their first service users, and understand that it falls within their charitable objects to pay for digital marketers who know how to connect with them.

In five years, every person in a more junior role will harness their enthusiasm and native digital skills. They’ll stand up at team meetings and demand training to improve the standard of their work; they’ll demand further investment in digital service delivery and fundraising from their directors, and if they don’t get positive responses, they’ll look for jobs with other charities that are growing their digital teams.

In five years, those in middle-management positions won’t just react to whatever work is thrown at them. They’ll invite their peers for coffee and ask "how we can we best work together to achieve this charity's mission? Can your team train my team to write our own emails? Can my team train your team in the principles of fundraising?"

In five years, the above will be the rule, not the exception.

Make some noise

To achieve all that, we need to make noise.

We need to champion those who deliver their life-changing services at scale online, using digital as a means to changing lives and not as an end in itself.

We need to make very loud examples of digital teams who train enthusiastic colleagues in fundraising, campaigning and marketing teams in digital skills, and grow what they’re capable of.

We need to equip the most knowledgeable junior staff with management and team-building skills, then promote them to positions of power where they can do more.

We need to get in the same room as the trustees and show them how many lives other charities changed online, how many people they could reach and how many lives they could change. We won’t enthuse any trustees by simply saying "we need to invest in digital".

Then we need to help them to:

  • Put funding bids together to ensure their existing life-changing content reaches as many people as possible.
  • Create online versions of their existing services so they can reach more people.
  • Train their whole organisation in the digital skills they need to do their jobs better.

Let’s start by making that noise. Tweet, email and, more importantly, talk about the people you know who are making 2022 happen in 2017.

Matt Collins is managing director of Platypus Digital, a digital marketing agency specialising in the charity sector

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