Zoe Amar, Founder and Director of Zoe Amar Digital

The Charity Digital Skills Report 2019 launched today reveals the harsh reality that the pace of change in the sector has been incredibly slow and in many crucial areas has declined over the past 3 years.

Charities say Brexit has not been holding them back (87%), yet some areas of progression are at their worst level since the report first launched in March 2017 - before the UK voted to leave the European Union.

Whatever the cause, the effect will be clear if charities do not reprioritise digital urgently.

Charities striving to move forward with digital are showing it is an integral part of their organisational strategy and not viewed in isolation or as an add on.

It is therefore extremely worrying that charities have made no progress or regressed in this area, with over half of charities not having a digital strategy (52%), an increase on 2018’s 45% and 50% in 2017.

Less than a quarter (23%) say they have a clear strategy for how digital can help achieve their charity’s goals, dropping from 32% in 2018 and 27% in 2017. Only 10% have been through and embedded digital transformation, down from 15% in 2018.

A lack of digital skills continues to a big challenge, second only to funding. Despite tech innovations - especially AI – frequently appearing in the news, only 12% are planning for how this could change their charity, less than 2018’s 14%.

This ties in with the sector not keeping pace with new developments with just 35% staying up to speed with how digital trends are affecting their work and have a plan in place to tackle this.

This is down 10% from 2018 and falls lower than 2017 (39%). Equally as worrying, 76% of charities say they have low to very low skills in AI; worse than 73% in 2018 and 68% in 2017.

Is the impact of digital is being undervalued as only 61% say digital skills could help them grow their charity’s network - down from 73% last year; 54% think digital can help them support more beneficiaries (compared to 57% last year) and 42% feel growing digital skills could help co-ordinate volunteers more effectively, falling sharply from 54% in 2018.

Leadership results seem more promising. 57% want their leaders to understand trends and how they affect charities, down from 63% last year.

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In addition, 45% want their senior team to have some experience or understanding of digital tools, down from 53% last year and 41% said they want their leadership teams to be more agile and adapt to change, compared to 47% last year.

However, is it that charity leaders are raising their game in digital, or have charities have lowered their expectations?

For the first time we asked charities about their priorities over the next 12 months. The top was using digital to increase their impact 67%, whilst 59% want to use data more effectively.

Almost half (48%) want to use digital to improve service delivery and 42% would like to deploy digital to increase income.

Crucially, 41% want to create a strategy and improve skills, with 41% prioritising development of their colleagues’ skills and 23% keen to support their board and leadership team in developing theirs.

Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, Margot James and Minister for Sport and Civil Society, Mims Davies, wrote the foreword for this year’s report, commenting:

“Not only does this report provide useful insights into digital trends across the sector, but it also shines an important light on where the skills need to be boosted, and arms government with vital insight to create effective policies. Charities and social enterprises continue to amaze us with the inspirational work they carry out within their communities but boosting the digital skills capability of these organisations is increasingly necessary. Not only is this essential for the growth of our digital economy, but it also forms the foundation for growing the UK’s thriving ‘tech for good’ sector and we look forward to this great work continuing.”

Zoe Amar, Founder and Director of Zoe Amar Digital, comments on this year’s findings:

“It is reassuring that charities seem to be aware of the issues and where the gaps are, however, the slow pace of change and decline of progress overall needs urgent attention. Funders need to step up as the report shows the need is growing across the sector and funding has remained the biggest challenge every year. Perhaps charities could also benefit from more support to demonstrate social impact and the meaningful value digital brings otherwise the sector is at risk of being left behind.”

Marie Orpen, Head of Digital at Guide Dogs, comments:

“There is definitely a strong correlation between the lack of progress and some of the challenges charities have highlighted in this year’s report such as a lack of strategy and resource, low organisational buy-in, infrastructure and pace. Digital transformation is not digitisation, point solutions or procuring the latest shiny bauble.  It is strategic change: putting your audience at the heart of everything you do; using technology to solve fundamental problems; learning from the data and innovating. 

"At Guide Dogs, our strategy combines Information Services and Digital, working with colleagues from across the charity. We use a benefits-led approach, showing the direct improvements digital can make, supported by a clear roadmap using Agile delivery. Most critical to success is strategic alignment, investment in end-to-end infrastructure and investment in the right people. Charities truly need people with the ability, agility, fail- fast mentality and appetite if we are to create a digital-first culture.”

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