Zoe Amar: Charity leaders have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reimagine their relationship with digital

The aftermath of the pandemic offers an opportunity to explore how digital transformation can deliver visions and missions in the long term

Zoe Amar

I read something the other day about how we are all mourning our pre-pandemic selves.

The past two years have been such a frantic period that the changes in who we are and how we lead may only now start becoming obvious. 

What could this mean for how charity leaders are now approaching digital? 

Nissa Ramsay and I are gathering data on this subject as part of the survey to build this year’s Charity Digital Skills Report, which will map the changing digital skills, priorities, goals and learnings emerging across the sector as we find our feet again after the last two years.

Leadership is a critical success factor in digital and we want to track how this has evolved since last year. 

This stage of the pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for leaders to reinvent how their charities approach digital, and to adopt the new ways of leading that hybrid working, greater collaboration and digital transformation demand. 

I asked charity leaders how their digital priorities had changed, and what this meant for them and their organisations.

Principles before process

There was huge pressure on leaders to pivot their charities to digital service delivery, fundraising and remote working at the start of the pandemic.

Many of the leaders I spoke to for this piece are thinking about how they embed their digital progress and asking big questions about what this means for their business models, workforce and operations. 

At the start of the pandemic, the volunteering charity Voluntary Service Overseas had to move many of its volunteers to remote working.

As time went on the charity began to see the benefits of working that way, as it engaged volunteers who might not be able to commit to longer placements overseas but who could give a few hours a week. 

This also enabled VSO to keep working with returning volunteers, drawing on their skills and expertise. 

Ezekiel Espisu, head of programme development at VSO, tells me that as well as designing what they do next with digital around data-driven and user-led principles, the charity is “thinking through what support looks like to the end user of the technology in long run because it is now much clearer that this will be an integral part of our revised way of working". 

Take a values-led approach

The pandemic has helped to move digital from a siloed activity to an organisation-wide endeavour.

Leaders are asking themselves how digital transformation can drive culture change and opportunities for staff’s personal and professional development. 

Over at The Royal College of Surgeons of England, deputy chief executive Jackie Weller is taking a values-led approach to digital transformation. 

She says: “Exercising our values, it will be essential that we collaborate with staff and external partners, respect the varying levels of confidence we have and drive for excellence in our outputs to ensure we meet and exceed the needs of our members and supporters.”

What leaders need to aim for now is the sweet spot between achieving digital ambitions whilst living their values and creating inclusion. 

Reflect on your own use of digital

Leadership is such a demanding job that it can be hard to find time to reflect on your own needs and skills.

Michelle Hill, chief executive of TLC: Talk, Listen, Change, says that while she relishes the productivity that digital enables, she is now thinking about the role it plays in her working day. 

“The increased efficiency can lead to too much scheduled in for each day and I now need to start scheduling ‘thinking time’ in too," she says. 

Whatever your digital plans, leaders need to make sure they are getting the headspace they need to strategise, as well as look after themselves. 

Charities have a big opportunity now to reimagine their future and plan how they use digital to deliver their vision and mission in the long term.

What is important to leaders now says as much about them as it does about where their organisations go next.

Zoe Amar is the founder of Zoe Amar Digital

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