After the chaos of the past six months, September feels like a "back to school" moment for the sector. Some staff are having occasional days in the office, and schools, pubs and restaurants are open.
Yet there has been a noticeable digital shift for charities. As we move into the next phase of the pandemic, how can we build on what we have achieved?
The incredible speed with which some charities went digital is impressive. Charity leaders and their teams worked around the clock to adapt to digital, with two-thirds of charities delivering all work remotely.
However, many of the leaders I know cited headspace as a significant challenge. Making the time to think and strategise is essential as charities plan for building back better.
I’m going to give you a quick and simple way to do this, using one charity as a case study. This is a three-step method called a ‘retrospective’, which will help you reflect on digital successes and failures during the crisis and plot out your next steps.
You don’t need to be a digital expert to run this session, and it can be done on Zoom in two hours maximum.
Before the session
Invite a group of leaders to the retrospective, as well as other staff involved in digital. It’s important that the meeting has a non-judgmental atmosphere.
People will be more likely to attend if the review is presented as a session where everyone can learn together about the progress that has been made with digital and what you can collaborate on from here, rather than an inquiry into what has not worked.
Set up some simple online collaboration tools such as a whiteboard, shared document, or – if you’re feeling fancy – a tool such as Mural, where you can use virtual Post-it notes. Choose someone neutral to facilitate the session.
Agree ground rules so that people offer their contributions in the right spirit. I ask people to be open-minded, focus on improvement, not blame, and give everyone space to share their experiences.
During the session
Begin by getting everyone to share their ideas on what your charity has done well digitally since March, using the shared online document on whiteboard.
For example, Abi Conway, chief executive of Northumberland Citizens Advice, told me that she and her team managed to shift their delivery model online, protecting volunteers who needed to shield.
“Within three days we managed to close down all offices and move all staff to remote service delivery with new IT equipment,” she says.
Keep ideas specific and tangible. Once you have all of your team’s suggestions down, group them into themes and ask others what they think of the ideas so that there is a shared understanding of what has worked.
Then apply the same method to cover what could be improved. In digital there is no success without failure.
Perhaps you tried to develop a new digital service that did not take off, or staff struggled to replicate the buzz of the office on Teams calls.
Invite people to share their ideas on what needs to be developed, then group them into themes and discuss.
The final stage is to identify next steps, building on what has worked and what needs to be developed – such as scaling up an online service that is getting traction, or pulling a digital fundraising campaign that is not generating income. Think about how you will resource your next steps.
As Conway says: “There's lots of emergency funding out there at the moment for Covid-19 emergency response, but it is primarily limited to between three and six months' spend – it is not about the long term, but rather the here and now.’
I recommend dividing next steps into short, medium and long term – which will help prioritise where you may need to invest or apply for grants.
Charities have made exciting progress with digital since lockdown. Where will you go from here?
Zoe Amar is founder of the digital and marketing consultancy Zoe Amar Digital @zoeamar