Zoe Amar: Organisations must act now to stay ahead of digital trends

After extraordinary changes in the ways the sector uses technology over the past year, leaders must think about their long-term relationship with digital

What are you and your colleagues doing digitally today that you weren’t doing before March 2020?

Take a moment to write your thoughts down – I bet it’s a longer list than you realised.

We have all seen extraordinary changes in how our organisations have begun using technology over the past year, whether it’s offering online services, shifting face-to-face fundraising events to digital or managing teams via Slack and Zoom.

We wanted to track the scale of this change in The Charity Digital Skills Report, our annual barometer of skills, attitudes and support needs, written with Skills Platform and Think Social Tech.

We knew we had a small window to gather insights as the sector emerged from the latest lockdown. Between April and June we spoke to 365 charity professionals who told us how they were using digital, what they had done to adapt during the pandemic and what role digital played in their future plans.

As well as tons of data covering many aspects of how digital is now being used across the sector, spanning leadership, service design, governance and funding, we also sourced incredible stories of charities that pivoted digitally during the pandemic, including The Leprosy Mission, Barnardo’s, Kidney Research UK and Brook.

Here are the top five stats leaders need to know from the report, and what you can do about them.

Recognise what your charity has achieved.

The charities we spoke to had shown huge creativity and adaptation during the pandemic, with 83 per cent changing their services in response to demand and close to eight out of 10 (78 per cent) using digital to reach new audiences.

I would encourage every leader to take time with their colleagues to think how they compare, recognise the extent of the change they have made, and review what has worked (or not) and what lessons this offers for your future plans.

Make wellbeing a priority.

The relentless, always-on nature of remote work during Covid-19 has taken its toll. About one-third of charities (31 per cent) said their staff are burned out.

Leaders need to put wellbeing top of their lists. Your staff will need all the energy they can muster on the road to recovery. I wonder whether we will need to put more measures in place to protect them, such as more time off, limiting the hours people spend on Zoom calls or having less challenging objectives.

Leaders need to lead on digital.

Two-thirds (67 per cent) of charities now see digital as a priority, and similar numbers are planning to invest in digital infrastructure.

It is really encouraging to see this, and echoes our finding that 60 per cent of charities now have a strategy in place for digital.

The big question for leaders is how they fulfil these ambitions. That might mean defining your vision for success, but also having frank discussions about how you are going to resource what you want to achieve.

This is a conversation that all leaders need to have with their senior management teams and boards.

We need a step change from funders

As part of the commentary in the report Carol Mack, chief executive of the Association of Charitable Foundations, points out that all funders are now digital funders by default, and they need to take a proactive approach to this and upskill accordingly.

Almost half (47 per cent) of charities want to factor core digital costs in their applications and would like additional support from funders, such as guidance and training.

I hope that grantmakers will revisit their approach after reading the report.

If this year is anything to go by, we are likely to see even more digital change across the sector in 2022. How are you planning to stay ahead of the trends?

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

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