UK charities facing digital crisis in an unstable era

Amidst the socio-economic and political pressure and uncertainty of recent times, digital transformation has been leading the way for many charities – helping them to improve their processes and communication, increase productivity and ultimately drive growth.

However, whilst some charities are already reaping the rewards of digital, a new report released 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 for the Charity Digital Skills Report 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.

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Almost three quarters (71%) of charities rate their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement. There is clearly a gap between the awareness of charity professionals and the skills and engagement of many charity boards.

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 digital is a potential solution to some of the problems they are facing.

Interestingly, 75% of charities think growing their digital skills would help them increase fundraising, yet 61% rate their digital fundraising skills as fair to low. This suggests charities could be missing out on the income generating potential of digital because they do not have the skills they need to leverage it.

With the sector already feeling the impact of fundraising pressures and in the lead up to GDPR, it is crucial that charities get digital smart to help combat this.

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.

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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 at the Skills Platform, comments: “Our results reveal 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.”

Zoe Amar, founder and director of Zoe Amar Communications, added: “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.”

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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.”

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

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...