Zoe Amar: What leaders need to do about digital

The latest Charity Digital Skills Report highlights the areas where those at the top of charities need to do better

Zoe Amar
Zoe Amar

I talk to a lot of charity leaders in my job and the one thing that always comes up is skills. How do I find the right people for my digital team, especially when I can’t offer them a big paycheck? Do we have enough digital skills on our board, and what do I need to learn about digital? These are just some of the questions I explored when I spent the day with a group of trustees recently.

If you want to see how your charity’s skills compare with others, we recently launched the latest Charity Digital Skills Report. Now in its third year, it is an annual barometer of where the charity sector is at with digital.

There’s a lot of information in the report, so I’ve pulled out the key highlights for leaders and what I think you need to do about them.

  • Charities have big ambitions for digital. Digital is no longer just about communications. Sixty-seven per cent of charity professionals told us that their priorities over the next 12 months were to increase their impact, 59 per cent wanted to use data more effectively and almost half (48 per cent) wanted to use digital to further service delivery. Every charity will have different aims, but this data is a good starting point for a conversation with your senior management team and board about what you want to achieve from digital over the next year.
  • Reinforcing that point, 73 per cent of respondents told us they wanted their senior teams to offer a clear vision of digital and what it could help them to achieve. A well-defined idea of where you want your charity to go and how to get there will focus minds and provide a steer on where to allocate time and resources. If you haven’t got one, take a look at this guide.
  • Most charities (68 per cent) rated their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement, similar to 2018, and there has been a three percentage-point decline in digitally savvy boards. This raises three key points for me: recruitment, training and ongoing learning for your board. Try doing a skills audit of your board to understand what they know about digital. If you need to beef it up, think about where you could find someone, such as Reach Volunteering. You could also look for budding trustees from a nearby university (such as a digitally savvy student) or a tech company in your area (ask your local council for voluntary service or Chamber of Commerce).
  • With just one in four people telling us that their charity was taking active steps to make its digital teams more diverse, it’s time to ask yourself some uncomfortable questions. Do you have the skills and experience to build digital products and services and create content to meet the needs of your users? How could you involve those with different perspectives and lived experience?
  • On a related note, 27 per cent told us that they were already looking the ethical challenges posed by digital innovation, such as the use of data by social media platforms. Talk to your colleagues who run these platforms about the nature of the risk and what you can do to manage it.

There is a lot to chew over in the report. One thing is clear: the sector is not moving forward as fast as it could and, with the rapid pace of change in digital, no one can afford to stand still. What will your charity do about this?

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

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