The story behind The Charity Digital Skills Report

A blog by Zoe Amar

If you were trying to improve your fitness, what’s the first thing you’d do? You might join a gym, get advice from a personal trainer or start working out with a friend. Either way you’d probably want to know where you were at before setting yourself some goals, whether it’s running a 5k or doing a triathlon. If you want to move forward you’ve got to find out where you are. That’s the rationale behind The Charity Digital Skills Report.

We’ve been working with the Skills Platform for the last 3 years to develop resources to help charities with digital, including The Charity Social Media Toolkit and The Charity Digital Toolkit. When we first began collaborating, they asked me what else I thought was missing to help charities. At the time there were no charity sector-wide studies into digital use, although there were equivalents of this in the private and public sectors. Surely creating a similar resource would empower charities by giving them a shared understanding of their peers’ digital skills and attitudes?

When we developed the report we also wanted to test the hypothesis that some charities were getting left behind. We had heard this many times anecdotally but we wanted to gather the data to see whether this was true. We can now track the data year on year to see whether charities are improving or not, so that the sector has a narrative to help it understand where it is progressing in digital and where it needs to develop further. This is a helpful way for individual charities to benchmark themselves, as well as being valuable for senior management and boards as much as digital teams.

The report could very easily have been about digital skills alone, and use of platforms and tools. But we knew that in order to draw out the story of how digital is changing the charity sector we’d need to look at behaviours and attitude, along with key themes. So for example we asked about leadership, and what charities want from their leaders in digital. Last year 63% of charities told us that they expected their leaders to understand trends and how they affect their organisations, and 53% wanted them to have some experience or understanding of digital tools, growing from 46% in 2017. This demonstrates the growing demand for charity leaders to develop their digital skills to drive adoption across their charities.

Digital is now a governance issue, so we also asked about trustees. Last year the majority of charities (69%) cited their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement, down by 2% on 2017. In addition, we asked about the impact of charities and boards growing their digital experience and knowledge. Last year over half (53%) of the charities we spoke to told us that if their leaders didn’t step up, they were worried about giving competitors an advantage, 51% were concerned that they would lose touch with their audience and that their brands and reputations would be affected.

As well as tracking the baseline of digital across the sector annually, we look at where we can tweak the survey to keep it fresh and topical. This year we’re asking charities about their views on the ethical challenges posed by digital innovation e.g. social media platforms’ use of data, how to make all users feel included, and algorithm bias. Diversity is a hot topic at the moment everywhere from the charity sector to Silicon Valley, so we are asking if charities are planning to increase diversity on their digital teams. And with such uncertainty in the political and economic climate, we want to hear if Brexit is affecting charities’ digital plans, and if so, how.

Everything you tell us will create a rich picture of where charities are at with digital, helping your organisation and the wider sector understand what’s going well and where things need to change. The survey takes just 5-10 minute to complete and we’d love to hear your views.

Take The Charity Digital Skills Report survey. There are £200 of Amazon vouchers to be won by participants. The results will be released in June.

About Zoe Amar

Zoe Amar is widely regarded as one of the charity sector’s leading digital experts. She founded digital agency and social enterprise Zoe Amar Digital in 2013. Their clients have included NSPCC, Anglia Ruskin University and The School for Social Entrepreneurs.
Zoe is Chair of The Charity Digital Code of Practice. She writes for Third Sector about charities and digital issues and co-founded the Social CEOs awards. She also co-authored The Charity Commission’s digital guidance for trustees, ‘Making Digital Work.’
Zoe has ten years’ experience as a charity trustee. She currently sits on the board of Tech Trust. She also sits on the Board Audit and Risk Sub-Committee at the Samaritans as their digital expert. Previously, Zoe worked for 5 years as part of the leadership team at a national charity which advised non-profits about technology. She recently won an Inspiring Communicator award from CharityComms.

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