Charities could lose a third of staff if they don't get a grip on digital skills

Our new survey reveals half of UK charities don’t have a digital strategy and fear losing out on fundraising income if training and funding aren’t improved

The government has signalled its intention for the UK to lead on technology: its digital strategy, published earlier this month, commits to training millions of people. Yet little has been done to map the current state of digital skills in charities.

Earlier this year we surveyed the sector for our charity digital skills report on how charities are using technology and the challenges they face. Almost 500 charity professionals from a range of organisations across the UK responded. The results are worrying.

Our report shows that the sector is struggling as skills gaps and a lack of funding seriously impede progress. Charities told us they fear missing out on fundraising opportunities if their organisations do not get to grips with digital, and could lose touch with their supporters. A significant number of staff are considering leaving if progress isn’t made.

Main findings

A lack of digital strategy is hampering charities’ progress: 50% of charities don’t have one. Yet 80% of respondents to our survey want their leadership team to provide a clear vision of digital and what it could help them achieve, while 66% want a good digital strategy – so this is not due to a lack of willing.

Without a digital strategy in place, time and money can be wasted on digital activities that become an end goal in themselves. A good strategy involves thinking more comprehensively about how digital can help achieve your charity’s goals and how to get there.

The reason why some charities don’t have a strategy seems to be partly because they don’t see digital as a priority. Of the charities surveyed 50% told us that they are facing other challenges, all of which are seen as more important. Dave Evans, product marketing manager at Skills Platform, says “digital appears to be pushed down the priority list. One respondent told us that boards and senior managers dismiss it as just being about social media or websites. Digital skills should really be seen as business skills.”

Meanwhile, 57% cite skills and 52% lack of funding as the biggest barriers to getting more from digital. While it’s not unusual for charities to be constrained by resources, the sector is going to have to find creative ways to tackle these issues. For example, Jamie Ward-Smith, chief executive of Do-It Trust, believes funders need to step up too. He says: “They have huge potential to influence how charities engage with digital, such as by requiring funding bids to outline how digital will be used to deliver services and at the very least using digital themselves to engage with applicants and secure feedback.”

Charity leaders in particular need to invest in digital skills or their organisations may not be sustainable in the long-term. There is a huge skills gap on charity boards, and almost three quarters (71%) of charities stated that their board’s digital skills were low or had room for improvement. If their board and leadership team do not develop their digital skills, more than half are worried about giving competitors an advantage (53%), losing touch with their audience (53%) or becoming irrelevant (53%). Vicky Browning, chief executive of Acevo, is clear that “charity and social enterprise leaders have a crucial role in identifying and capitalising on the opportunities digital technologies present because only strong leadership can drive change”.

Meanwhile, 66% of charities are worried that if they continue to remain unprepared for the shift towards digital fundraising, they will miss out on fundraising opportunities, not to mention exposing themselves to a range of risks including cyber-attacks and reputational damage. Using, managing and analysing data emerged as particular areas of concern in the survey, with 64% of respondents rating themselves as fair to low. This has worrying implications for how charities tackle new regulations around data protection.

Charities were more confident about some digital channels. 70% say they have good to fair email marketing skills, and 44% rate themselves as good at social media.

Charities are, however, struggling to attract and retain digital talent – 86% of respondents told us that it was important to them to work for a charity that is progressing in its attitude to digital. If they feel their charity is not progressing, 36% of respondents will either look for a job with a digitally-savvy charity or are unsure if they can commit to their role for the long-term.

While this is a bleak picture, we believe that it represents a huge opportunity for charities. Charities must seize the moment to lead on the digital agenda and use these tools to generate more income, reach more supporters and be more relevant than ever.

View the full report of the Charity Digital survey results here.

Talk to us on Twitter via @Gdnvoluntary and join our community for your free Guardian Voluntary Sector monthly newsletter, with analysis and opinion sent direct to you on the first Thursday of the month.


Zoe Amar

The GuardianTramp

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