The Charity Digital Skills Report launched today by the Skills Platform and Zoe Amar Communications reveals that many UK charities are still struggling to get to grips with digital transformation. Just under 500 charity professionals were surveyed and the results paint a very worrying picture for the sector.

A shocking 50%% of charities surveyed said they do not have a digital strategy and only 9% said they have been through digital transformation and embedded it. 57% cite skills and more than half (52%) lack of funding as the biggest barriers to getting more from digital. Almost three quarters (71%) of charities rate their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement.

In addition, half of charities say that other organisational challenges are being given more attention and digital is not seen as a priority. A better understanding of what digital is and how it can help charities must be developed and led across the sector to combat this, as there is a distinct irony in many seeing digital as a distraction rather than a potential solution to some of the problems they are facing.

75% of charities think growing their digital skills would help them increase fundraising, yet 61% rate their digital fundraising skills as fair to low. A further 80% of respondents said they want their leadership team to provide a clear vision of digital and what it could help them achieve, whilst 66% want a good digital strategy. This shows that both leadership teams and boards must own the development of their charity’s digital skills. If this doesn’t happen, more than half of the charities are concerned their organisations will become irrelevant, fall out of touch with their audience and lose ground to competitors.

Some charities are taking steps in the right direction. With 59% working to improve the culture so digital can flourish there and 39% are on top of how digital trends are affecting their charity’s work and have a plan in place for how to tackle this.

Dave Evans, Product Marketing Manager, the Skills Platform, comments: “The Charity Digital Skills Report reveals the sector is much further behind in digital transformation that we would have predicted. However, charities must not be too disheartened. The purpose of our report is not to place further pressure on the sector, but rather to help charities benchmark their own organisations; measure where the skills gaps are and see how digital could help them to seize the opportunities and better manage the challenges they face.”

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Zoe Amar, Founder and Director of Zoe Amar Communications, adds:The results are a real burning platform for the sector to engage with digital. We would urge charities to view this report as an opportunity to really join together and champion digital transformation within their organisations. Digital has the power to make charities more sustainable, efficient, and relevant and ultimately enable them to generate more income to help even more people. Charities simply cannot afford to not engage with digital otherwise they seriously risk being left behind.”

Martha Lane Fox CBE, Executive Chair of Doteveryone said: “This survey's results are sobering. Charities across the UK do extraordinary, life-changing work -- but unless they engage with digital, they'll struggle to fundraise, stay relevant, and remain competitive. Building digital skills starts with leadership and so I urge charity leaders to develop their own digital knowledge alongside their teams."

Commenting on the link between digital engagement and good governance, Sarah Atkinson, Director of Policy and Communications at The Charity Commission, said: "It is encouraging that most respondents to this survey recognise the difference strategic engagement with digital can make to their charities' success. But there is clearly a gap between the awareness of charity professionals, and the skills and engagement of many charity boards. It is of concern that almost three quarters of respondents rate their trustees' digital skills as low or having room for improvement and two thirds fear they will lose out on fundraising opportunities as a result.

“All trustees - no matter how large or small their charity - should consider how they can use technology to better meet the needs of their beneficiaries, and how they can apply digital tools make their governance systems more effective. So I encourage boards to use the findings of this survey as a prompt to start the conversation about making digital work for their charities. We know that trustees will have different confidence levels when it comes to digital, and so our guidance ‘Making digital work - 12 questions for trustees to consider’ is an excellent tool to help steer that discussion and help trustees tackle this important issue."

Harriet Stranks, Director of Grant-Making for Lloyds Bank Foundation for England & Wales said: “This report clearly highlights the gap between charities’ digital aspirations and what they’re able to deliver on the ground. It’s a tough climate out there and no surprise that charities find it difficult to prioritise time and resource for their digital development when they’re facing growing demand for their services. Digital technology is transforming every aspect of our lives, from helping us work more efficiently, to reaching our audiences in creative and engaging ways. Charities that invest in their digital strategy are going to be those that survive the turbulent times ahead.”

Vicky Browning, Chief Executive of the charity and social leaders' network, ACEVO, concluded: “Technology is forcing all kinds of organisations to rethink the way they operate. The charity sector is no exception: many charities are evaluating how they organise themselves, raise money, deliver services and collaborate.

“This isn’t just a digital issue though: it’s not about smartphones, websites or social media. It’s about identifying the tools and culture needed to help the whole organisation completely rethink the way it works so that it can best meet the needs and expectations of beneficiaries. Digital shouldn’t be confined to fundraising or communications departments: it’s fundamental to service delivery, finance, HR and, ultimately, governance - and that’s where leadership is so important.

“Charity and social enterprise leaders have a crucial role in identifying and capitalising on the opportunities digital technologies present because only strong leadership can drive change. Business models and digital development can no longer be viewed as separate things. What’s vital now is to recognise the role of technology as a key enabler in helping charities to meet their charitable objectives.”

Heidi Travis, Chief Executive at Sue Ryder, said: “At Sue Ryder we recognise the findings of the report and that charities have to be increasingly innovative in order to secure funding, improve services and remain relevant.

“We’re always looking for ways to do things Better, Simpler and Smarter and over the last year digital transformation has been a key part of our strategy. We’ve embarked on several new projects including trialing contactless donations, digital data capture for visitors to our hospices and a programme of digital upskilling for key teams across the organisation.”

Joe Freeman, Assistant Director of Digital at Breast Cancer Now, concluded: “Digital is now so embedded in how we live our lives and it’s worrying to read that it’s not seen as a priority within many organisations. The opportunities of digital engagement are hugely exciting and the charity sector will run the risk of limiting the effectiveness of what we do if we do not fully embrace it.

“Whilst adaptation to new ways of working may take time, it is key that the sector works together to build a stronger focus on digital leadership, recognises that digital is more than websites and social media, and that individual charities establish exactly what ‘digital transformation’ means for them.”

To offer charities the support they need to navigate successfully through digital transformation, the Digital Skills Platform will soon be launching The Charity Digital Toolkit. This Toolkit showcases best practice, expert insight and practical tips for charities.

To following the conversation on social media, please use the hashtag #charitydigireport

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