Digital Could Help Health Charities Reach More Patients

The Skills Platform and Zoe Amar Communications have today launched the Charity Digital Skills Report 2018; the annual barometer which measures the progress of digital within healthcare charities and the wider sector. Top line results reveal incremental progress has been made; but is this slow pace of change fast enough and is a lack of digital capability causing healthcare charities to miss out on reaping the benefits of digital transformation.

Creating a culture of innovation and reaching more patients

This year’s report asked healthcare charities what improving digital capabilities would help them to do.The biggest opportunity was to create a culture of innovation (67%); reach more patients (66%) and develop more digital products and services. Just over half also reported digital could help them to improve patient outcomes. Digital clearly has a crucial role to play in transforming healthcare charities and ultimately in helping them to reach more people in need of their vital services. But could barriers be preventing them from realising the opportunities digital has to offer?

Biggest barriers to digital transformation

Overall, a lack of funding is the number one barrier to digital progress (58%) which is a significant increase from 52% in 2017. Skills is the second biggest challenge at 51% (down from 57 % last year when it took the top spot). There is a growing concern about culture, with 46% saying that it needs to change. Charities also still feel constrained by infrastructure and processes. And 1 in 3 state that a lack of trustee buy-in is holding their charity back in digital.

Emerging tech skills gap

Although digital skills have fallen into second place, it clearly remains a huge concern. In particular, 73% say that they have low to very low skills in AI, up from 68% last year. Struggling to embrace emerging technology is a particular challenge with only 14% planning for how emerging tech could affect their work. With the government recently commissioning a review into AI which estimated that it could add £630 billion to the UK economy by 2035, recommending that investment in skills was a priority, having such a low skill base in this area could be causing some healthcare charities to miss out. Some good progress has been made, however, as more than half (53%) of respondents see their digital strategy skills as fair or low, a 10% improvement from 63% last year.

GDPR – are we heading for a fall?

Almost two thirds of respondents (64%) saying they are currently preparing for GDPR and will have everything in place for when it comes into force. This finding is supported by Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports’ research which show charities seem to have a higher awareness and put more preparation in place for GDPR compared to other sectors. However, has focusing on GDPR come at the expense of the progression of other projects such as digital transformation - both in terms of budget and prioritisation? Whilst many are getting ready, worryingly, handling data is still noted a skills gap, with 62% rating themselves as fair to low with using, managing and analysing data and 47% rate themselves as fair to low with cybersecurity.

The digital leadership challenge

There is a growing expectation that leaders must understand trends and how they affect their charities. 63% now want this, rising from 58% last year. Similarly, 53% want them to have some experience or understanding of digital tools, growing from 46% last year. The majority (69%) cite their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement. 65% continue to be worried that they will miss out on opportunities for digital fundraising. There has been a big increase in worries about the lack of the leadership support needed to develop more digital products and services, rising significantly to 51%, up from 42% last year. This show strong demand for boards and leadership teams to develop their digital skills.

Tracey Crouch, Minister for Sports and Civil Society, and Margot James, Minister for Digital and Creative Industries have written the foreword for this year’s Charity Digital Skills Report. An excerpt includes:“This government knows that digital is absolutely key to the growth of organisations and communities. It allows them to innovate and demonstrate Britain’s unique culture to the rest of the world. But that is only possible with a digitally skilled workforce. This report shows where we are, and helps us to understand what we need to do to improve digital throughout the charity sector. We are pleased to see that things are improving but there is still a long way to go if charities are to truly embrace the opportunities digital offers to help them scale up impact, save money and time, reach more people and increase their revenues.”

Zoe Amar, Founder and Director of Zoe Amar Communications, comments: “This year’s report uncovers a worrying lack of digital progress across the board. This includes everything from leadership, skills, culture, embracing emerging tech and a lack of funding is rising as a huge challenge. Although progress is slow, some improvements have been made including using digital more strategically and getting GDPR ready, but this slow pace of digital change could be putting healthcare charities at high risk of becoming unsustainable and irrelevant.”

Dave Evans, Product Marketing Manager at the Skills Platform, comments: “Our report is an invaluable resource for healthcare charities to benchmark their progress against the sector; to track developments made since last year and to understand the overall digital trends and what the implications are. Whilst progress has undoubtedly been much slower than we had anticipated, it is undoubtedly a true reflection of the difficult climate charities have been operating in. We have seen fantastic digital innovations such as Macmillan’s virtual nurse, which really demonstrate the power of digital to reach even more people and directly meet your charity’s objectives. But it is vital healthcare charities recognise the need to put digital back to the top of the agenda otherwise they risk falling behind their competitors who are already reaping the opportunities digital offers.”

Lara Burns, Chief Digital and Technology Officer at Age UK, concludes: “These are really tough times financially for charities and it is unsurprising if investment in developing digital capacity is often being de-prioritised as a result – especially by organisations struggling to keep going at all. While acknowledging how hard the funding choices facing charities are at the moment, it’s worth considering how smart investment in the right digital focus can pay off - not just financially but in many other ways too. So if your charity is in this position, a great starting place would be to review your digital strategy and how it could support your organisation’s funding growth or help create efficiencies. If you can make those investments, it will be worth it in the long term.”

The Charity Digital Skills Report 2018 is now available to read online and includes full industry commentary.