Zoe Amar: To do digital well, do less

Digital is huge, so don't drink from the firehose. Instead, start with small actions

Zoe Amar
Zoe Amar

Have you ever stood in front of an all-you-can-eat buffet, dazzled by the range of delicious food?

It’s classic behaviour that most of us will recognise in ourselves when faced with too many options. And it’s one that I have seen in many charities. I recently worked with an organisation that had suggestions for more than 30 big, ambitious digital projects. I made them prioritise and select just three of them. It is far better to select a small number of top-notch ideas and nail them than try to do everything. That’s setting yourself up to fail.

Streamlining what you have and doing more with less is emerging as a theme in 2019 (witness the popularity of Netflix’s Tidying up with Marie Kondo). The challenge with digital, though, is that there is an infinite variety of possibilities. So how can your charity prioritise, and how will you know if you’ve done it effectively?

Avoid overwhelm

Digital is huge, touching every area of your charity’s work. Reviewing what to do can feel like drinking from a firehose.

First, establish clear criteria that underpin your choices, such as "we will say yes to a project only if it saves money, helps us to fundraise or gives our stakeholders a better experience".

Second, start with small actions. Ross McCulloch, director of Third Sector Lab, helps charity leaders zero in on key areas as part of the One Digital Senior Leadership Programme he facilitates for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. He says: "We actually have a 'bingo card' of 15 key digital actions. We ask participants to pick just three to focus on initially. This could be getting digital on the agenda with the board, embedding service design techniques to put users at the centre of everything you do or working towards cyber essentials accreditation."

McCulloch points out that it is small, sustainable shifts in behaviour such as these that give charity leaders the confidence to lead change. You can see SCVO’s bingo cards on page 19 of its booklet.

Be disciplined

It is so easy in digital to get distracted by the latest new thing. The digital fundraising consultant Nick Burne agrees: "This is so prevalent it has a name: "shiny object syndrome". You're not going to raise a lot of money in 2019 with bitcoin, so why spend valuable resources thinking about it?"

Before you commission any digital projects, agree success criteria and be ruthless about pursuing them. Horizon-scanning for cool new trends is great, but knowing what you must focus on will enable your senior management team to evaluate them objectively.

Bring it back to your users

Ultimately, charities need to ask themselves if what they are doing digitally is really going to help their donors, beneficiaries and other stakeholders, and look at the data that supports their hypotheses. This is a key question and should be asked not only when developing your digital strategy, but also at operational level. For example, Dawn Kelly of Bird Lime Media advises that when devising a video a charity could consider the "five key subject areas it wants to be known for as a brand and three key audience members it wants to please with its videos".

Doing less with digital really can mean achieving more, avoiding precious time and money being wasted. I read a quotation recently that should be our mantra for the digital choices we all make: "Shock them into focus with your clarity of intent."

Zoe Amar is the founder of the digital and marketing consultancy Zoe Amar Digital @zoeamar

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