Zoe Amar: Why digital is a movable feast

It's hard to plan when the digital landscape changes so quickly, which is why you should add your voice to the debate

Zoe Amar
Zoe Amar

Get a group of charity leaders together and ask them what they want to do about digital and I guarantee that they’ll ask what digital really means. In the Charity Digital Code of Practice we use the Co-op’s definition: "Applying the culture, practices, processes & technologies of the Internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations." I wholeheartedly agree with this because it shows how digital is changing behaviours. Ask me the question again in 10 years, though, and I might give you a different answer.

A decade ago, those of us working in digital would have defined it as a set of tools. In 2029, the landscape will have changed hugely. The professional services company PwC predicts that 30 per cent of jobs could be at risk of automation by the mid 2030s, and the tech billionaire Elon Musk is investing in self-driving cars and the integration of humans and artificial intelligence. The truth is that we can define digital now, but as one charity leader wisely said to me it is a moving target. And we all need to plan for that.

You might ask how you can plan for the future when emerging tech developments seem so abstract and we don’t know what 2029 will hold. I think there are three key topics on which charity leaders need to keep their eyes. We’ve highlighted these in the survey we are asking charities to take part in to build this year’s Charity Digital Skills Report. We’ll be sharing the results in June, but here’s what charity leaders can do about these issues in the meantime.

Diversity is a hot topic in the sector at the moment, and with good reason. Close to 80 per cent of senior leadership teams at charities have no ethnic minority professionals. And fewer than one in five (19 per cent) of the UK tech workforce is female. Diversity is also a problem in Silicon Valley, leading to recent high-profile lawsuits against tech companies such Google. Whether you’re running a global tech behemoth based in Menlo Park or a homelessness charity in Manchester, you need to think about how your digital communications, products and services reflect the varied needs of the people you help. Is this represented among those working in digital at your charity? If not, how can you reach people who have those experiences and support them in making the transition to working for your charity?

Digital ethics is a growing area. Big tech companies are under fire in the press every few days, whether it’s Facebook and its track record in data or the recent story about Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network. Our sector, like others, is dependent on big tech companies. I’m struggling, for example, to think of a small charity that isn’t on Facebook. All you can do is to understand the risks involved and look at what you can do to manage them, including how your charity’s data is being used and whether you need to diversify across different platforms.

Are you planning for Brexit? Is this causing uncertainty for your charity’s digital investment or plans, or are you in business-as-usual mode? We’ve asked that question in this year’s report. If there is a no-deal Brexit, could digital services help you maintain business continuity?

We’ve asked charities how they are tackling these issues and more in the survey. Add your voice to the debate and I’ll share what the sector is saying about these and other hot digital issues in a future column.

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

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