Categories: The Latest in Charity

Key Trends from the Charity Digital Skills Report 2018

We’re delighted to have partnered with Skills Platform again on the sector’s annual barometer, The Charity Digital Skills Report. But what’s really changed since last year? And what should charities be doing about it?

Overall, we’ve seen some improvements this year. A number of charities are using digital more strategically. There has however been little change in other areas, and I worry that the pace isn’t fast enough, given the speed of change in digital. Compared to last year, there is growing pressure on funders and charity leaders to raise their game online. And as a trustee, I’m concerned to read that the majority of charities either don’t know or aren’t aware of any plans to improve the digital skills of trustees.

Here are my highlights from the report, and what they mean.

What’s improved

More charities are using digital strategically

  • 45% of charities don’t have a digital strategy, which is an improvement on last year’s figure of 50%.
  • 15% of charities have been through the digital transformation process and embedded it, compared to 9% last year.
  • 45% are on top of how digital trends are affecting their charity’s work and have a plan in place for how to tackle this, which is up from 39% in 2017.
  • Over a third (36%) say that digital transformation is being led from the top, an increase from 29% last year.
  • Just over half (53%) see their digital strategy skills as fair or low, a 10% improvement from 63% last year.

This is good news. My one caveat is that it could reflect the pattern we saw in the recent Lloyds Business Digital Index, which showed that digitally mature organisations are leaving others behind.


Charities have improved slightly at innovation and digital product development (29% compared to 24% last year).

It’s positive that there’s been a 5% increase in charities who think they are good at innovating and developing new digital products and services.


64% think they are excellent or good at social media (up from 61% last year), whilst 66% think they are good to fair with analytics (up from 60%).


A sizeable number of charities are feeling confident about GDPR, with almost two thirds (64%) currently preparing for GDPR and sure they will have everything in place for when it comes into force.

Areas for improvement

Lack of alignment between digital and organisational strategy

Just under a third (32%) have a clear strategy for how digital can help achieve their charity’s goals.

Whilst this is an improvement from the 27% who had such a strategy last year, the bigger picture is that the vast majority of charities are still not aligning their digital and corporate strategies. This is a concern.The 9% of charities who say that everyone in their charity understands their digital vision, which has stayed at the same level since 2017, reinforces this.


A growing number of charities (58%) now see funding as their biggest obstacle to digital progress, up from 52% last year. It’s time for funders to develop their digital skills too.

Emerging tech

  • Despite self-driving cars, cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence being high on the news agenda, only 14% of charities are planning for how emerging tech could affect their work.
  • It is a huge concern that 73% of charities say that they have low to very low skills in AI, up from 68% last year. By having such a low skill base in this area, charities are likely to miss out.

I’ve spoken to many charities, large and small, who are struggling to get digital fundamentals such as a good website or CRM system in place. Yet the sector also needs to have an eye to the future, so that everyone can plan for it. What are the implications of automation for the charity workforce, for example?

Skills, talent and people

  • Skills are now seen as slightly less of a constraint for charities, however they are still the second largest challenge for them (51% as opposed to 57% last year).
  • If the way their charity uses digital doesn’t improve, 39% of respondents are unsure if they will stay in their role in the long term or are planning to look for a job at another, digitally savvy charity, rising from 36% last year
  • Culture has risen up the table as an issue. 46% say it needs to change, up from 43% in 2017.
  • More charities believe they could deliver their strategy more effectively by investing in digital skills (72%, up from 69% previously).
  • Developing staff and retaining staff has become more of a priority, with 65% stating that developing digital skills would help develop and retain staff (57% last year).

People are one of the most important areas to get right in digital transformation and charities still need to work on how they recruit, retain and motivate the staff who can help them do this. I’m particularly worried that more staff are planning to leave their charities unless they develop digitally.


  • There is a growing expectation that charity leaders must understand trends and how they affect their charities. 63% now want this, rising from 58% last year. On a similar note, 53% want them to have some experience or understanding of digital tools, growing from 46% last year.
  • 42% think that better leadership skills such as being more decisive, focused and collaborative would help their charities in digital, rising from 38% in 2017.
  • The same number of charities (28%) as last year still see lack of leadership in digital as a problem.
  • 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 is one of the biggest issues raised by the report for me. Charities want more breadth and depth of experience from their leaders in digital. As someone wise once said to me, digital is ultimately a test of how good a leader you are.


  • The majority of charities (69%) cite their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement, an improvement of 2% on last year. Trustees must still however prioritise the development of their skills in this area.
  • Despite the significant digital skills gap on the majority of charity boards, 78% of people either don’t know what is being done to change this, or state that their organisations don’t have any plans.
  • For the first time this year, we asked people if lack of trustee understanding or buy-in for digital was a barrier. 1 in 3 (33%) see it as an issue.

Charities want their leaders to set a clear direction of travel in digital, and boards are not immune from this. I think trustees need to take responsibility for ultimately owning how their charities use digital, and commit to developing the skills they need to make informed decisions.

In summary

It is good that there are some signs of improvement. Yet the gaps in funding, leadership, skills, governance and emerging tech skills all point towards a sector that is still struggling to move forward with digital.

As the results indicate, charities need funders, their leaders and trustees to get on board with digital. But will they rise to this challenge?

Read the Charity Digital Skills Report

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