We are living through one of the biggest culture shifts of our time. 73% of adults in the UK are now signed up to a social media platform [1], there are 3.4 internet-connected devices per person [2] and it is normal to touch your phone 2,617 times a day [3]. New technology has clearly infiltrated the country. Unsurprisingly, digital transformation is buzzing about the charity sector. It was therefore a natural choice for the IOF Technology Group to select digital guru, Zoe Amar, to give the closing keynote speech at this year’s conference. Drawing from her experience, and the knowledge she has gained from her recent work on the Charity Digital Skills Report, Zoe shared her view of why digital transformation matters. I was lucky enough to get a front row seat and this is what I learned…
What is digital transformation?
Even though there is a lot written about digital transformation, and everyone seems to be talking about it, Zoe struggled to find many definitions of what really means. In response, she has constructed her own definition,
Digital transformation means integrating digital across our organisation to deliver our vision, create value, give our audience great experience and services and develop a competitive advantage.”
In this context, competitive advantage doesn’t mean you need to operate in a cut-throat way or stop collaborating. Instead you need to understand what makes your charity truly unique and how can you use digital to capitalise on that.
What is digital?
The word “digital” is even harder to define than digital transformation. Digital is becoming part of everything we do. Zoe suggested that, if this isn’t the case for your organisation, then you need to ask yourself “why not?”
She defined “digital” as a mindset of connectivity; helping your charity develop better relationships, deliver better services and so much more. Digital is not just the tools or the platforms that you may use but the people, culture, and behaviours that frame what your charity is trying to do.
How can we create a digital transformation?
Zoe suggested that a good starting point for organisations looking to undertake a digital transformation would be to agree your own definition. By getting everyone on the same page, people will have a better understanding of what you are doing and how it will benefit your charity. Ultimately, the question you are looking to answer is as follows,
“How can we use digital to create the change you want to see?”
To tackle this question, everyone needs to agree an ultimate vision and strategy for getting there. It is important to begin with your organisation’s strategy and then introduce digital into it - not the other way around.
There may be upskilling required in order to achieve digital transformation and it could be a good idea to draw from the skills of colleagues in HR as you undertake organisational change. Assess where you are up to as an organisation; identify skills gaps, how people like to learn, and how you can learn from each other.
Creating digital transformation is not about making sure that you have a presence on Instagram, Snapchat, or the latest social media platform. It is understanding how digital technology can help you to achieve your organisational strategy more effectively. When deciding which platforms you should use, Zoe suggested that key guide stars must be your beneficiaries, supporters and other key stakeholders. Look at how they are using digital and see how you can be part of their current activity.
Why is digital transformation important?
The Charity Digital Skills Report demonstrated that only 50% of charities have a digital strategy and only 9% have been through the digital transformation process and embedded it. The private sector is also grappling with this. However if you add to this the additional pressures that the charity sector is facing, Zoe’s belief is that the sector is likely to face real difficulties within the next 2-3years if things do not change soon.
The report cites the biggest barriers to digital transformation being a lack of skills, a lack of funding and lack of digital understanding at Board level. NCVO’s Almanac, which was published this week, suggests government funding is decreasing and public giving is unlikely to increase. If the sector is going to secure the funding it needs to embrace digital opportunities effectively then we need to look to other funders to find the resources we need…and we need our leaders to embrace the digital era that we are living in. 66% of people in the Report’s survey stated that unless Boards and leadership develop digital skills they will miss opportunities for fundraising.
Zoe acknowledged that it’s not surprising that charities are falling behind digitally. With a lack of resources and a vital day job, it is easy to become absorbed by the necessary firefighting and focus on short-term survival…but we need to recognise that digital is the solution to a lot of these challenges. The Report revealed that 75% increase the digital skills in the sector would increase fundraising and 60% think it would help create better services. Digital is a non-negotiable thing. It’s not a binary choice; it’s already happening. If we fail to embrace these opportunities, we are failing to operate as effectively and efficiently as we could be. That is negligence.
The Opportunities
The data is worrying but it shows a massive opportunity. Zoe is confident that the sector can absolutely turn this around. She gave two specific examples of digital activities that demonstrate the opportunities out there:
  1. The Gardeners Rest Pub in Sheffield was put up for sale in September last year. The pub is a living, breathing part of the community and locals wanted to keep it as a truly local enterprise rather than it becoming part of a national chain. They launched a crowdfunding page with a short video of the different people who come to the pub. People like Andy who comes along and reads poetry in the evening every week. The stories in the video inspired donations making the campaign was a big success. They raised £237k in 49 days and unlocked a further £100k in grants and loans. It shows us that using digital technology to tell emotive stories can move people to give; enabling us to raise additional funds efficiently and cost effectively.
  2. The second example Zoe gave was of the National Trust’s reaction to Adam Evans’ tweet. Adam was making light of the media attention the charity had been getting for not mentioning Easter enough in its Egg Hunt promotions and he asked why the charity had not mentioned #EdBallsDay on its website. The charity responded quickly and jovially, generating over 2,000 likes, 400 retweets as well as national press coverage. As a sector, we should not be afraid to poke fun of ourselves in the way that the commercial sector has been doing for a very long time. Digital communications allow us to humanise our communications at great scale and jumping on opportunities like this can be a great way of raising awareness for your organisation.
7 things you can do:
Zoe helpfully shared seven things that we can all do to make progress towards digital transformation in the organisations that we work or volunteer for:
  1. Work out where digital sits in your business model.
  2. Develop your digital fundraising model.
  3. Upskill your team.
  4. Look at how your audience is using digital – Zoe gave the example of a charity director who was obsessed with getting his charity to use Instagram but Zoe explained that this may not be the best platform for the charity’s target audience and was a far sight from digital transformation.
  5. Speak to charities who’ve gone digital - the great thing about our sector is that most people are happy to share what they have learnt over a coffee – we don’t need to reinvent the wheel as there are plenty of people to learn from.
  6. Talk to your leadership team. You might want to share the Charity Digital Skills Report, the Lloyds Bank UK Business Digital Index as well as highlights of what your competitors are doing.
  7. Just get started!
It can be hard but it’s worth it
Zoe recognised that all of this is hard. It can feel daunting. It can feel like a big undertaking. There will be times when it feels like a real battle but when this happens, Zoe suggested reminding yourself that digital is a mindset. The more we can show our colleagues that digital presents a massive opportunity to the sector, the more likely they are to join us in taking actions. Through doing this we can raise more funds, reach more people, and raise more awareness of the important work we are doing.