The 2020 Charity Digital Skills Report paints a picture of a post-crisis charity sector gaining confidence with digital, but still lacking the skills and funding they need
The pandemic has been a ’watershed moment’ for the charity sector’s use of digital technology, but the future will depend on a strategic approach to funding, partnerships and digital inclusion, according to the the 2020 Charity Digital Skills Report, released today.
Launched by Skills Platform in partnership with Zoe Amar Digital, the Charity Digital Skills Report is an annual barometer of the charity sector’s use of digital technology, looking at different sizes of charity at different stages of digital maturity.
Now in its fourth year, the survey aims to help charities benchmark their skills and progress against peers and gain a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities presented by digital trends.
While 2019’s report put a focus on topical areas such as the impact of Brexit, this year’s report takes a look at how charities have begun to adapt their use of digital post COVID-19, and what this means for the future of the sector.
The findings also reveal a broader view of how charities are changing in relation to other issues that are central to all charities operating today, such as diversity and digital skills on boards.
The unexpected impact of the pandemic has been the biggest disruptor in terms of digital technology this year, and there has been a major push for the sector to embrace digital as a means of of staying relevant, helping more people and developing new ways of working, fundraising and offering services.
We’ve seen countless examples of charities making enormous progress with digital in the last few months, trying new things and seeing what sticks. This spirit of experimentation has led many to embed digital as part of their strategies for the first time.
Questions related to COVID-19 were quickly added to this year’s Charity Digital Skills Report, with additional analysis carried out that compares data before and after the start of the UK lockdown (March 20th).
“It’s fascinating to see the results of this survey which provide great insight into the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on charities’ use of digital. It’s pleasing to see that there have been areas of real progress and that there are signs of charities starting to view digital more strategically.
However there is clearly much work to do to support them in developing and executing more digitally enabled strategies."
- Jonathan Chevallier, CEO - Charity Digital
While 66% of charities say they are now delivering work remotely and 61% say they are delivering or plan to deliver more services online, the report clearly indicates some major challenges still to be overcome. Despite their ambitions to be more digital, a shocking 27% of charities have had to cancel services because the charity or their users don’t have the necessary skills or the technology.
There is a growing need among charities to access the funding for digital, as service user audiences shift to online channels and charity staff continue to embrace the benefits of remote working during COVID-19 and beyond.
According to the report, 43% of charities now say they need financial support for new technical equipment, software or tools. However, over the last year, just under half (48%) have not accessed any digital funding, suggesting a significant unmet need among charities.
Chevallier stresses that a joined-up approach from the sector which combines new and flexible forms of funding with the capability to cost effectively get the right technology to the right organisations is needed.
Support organisations like Charity Digital, which exists to link charities up with the technology sector to deliver discounted and donated software, services, advice and training, will continue to play a crucial role.
"The report provides many helpful pointers to the areas which education and support need to focus in the coming year and we at Charity Digital will look to continue to build our programme to meet these needs."
- Jonathan Chevallier, CEO - Charity Digital
Looking back on the findings, Chevallier adds the challenge of acquiring the right technology "extends when considering those who are digitally excluded either for economic or disability reasons. It’s vital that charities consider these groups in their strategies and solutions and that funding is then available to support these."
68% of charities surveyed say they want to grow the reach of their services, but a third (34%) of respondents see the fact that their audience is not online as their greatest challenge to delivering them, highlighting a digital poverty gap that needs to be addressed, with those in need unable to take advantage of crucial services.
How can charities begin to solve this? In order to begin, charities need to look at how they can help users access tech through donating devices and providing access to learning, advises the report. But there is also a pressing need to address the accessibility of the digital product charities create, and to ensure they work for everyone.
With a shocking 91% of charities rating themselves as ’fair to poor’ in understanding how their audience uses digital, there is a clear need to undertake more research into service users, the channels they want to use, the barriers they meet and how charities can enable them to access the services they need. And once a digital tool has been created, most (62%) don’t carry out the crucial step of user testing and regular feedback to identify improvements.
Meanwhile, a quarter of charities say that they need to improve diversity amongst staff with digital responsibilities.
This finding is not coincidental, and "points to the importance of continuing to campaign for more diversity in staff with digital responsibilities," adds Chevallier. "Such diversity isn’t just morally right, it’s vital to ensure that the services we as a sector provide meet the needs of all our beneficiaries.”
With hard-hitting campaigns like #CharitySoWhite continuing to shake the sector against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, charities find themselves face to face with issues of inclusion like never before.
While there’s no easy fix, charities can make sure they’re part of the conversation around how to better represent people of different races, disabilities and neurodiversities in the work that they do. In our recent series of podcasts, we heard from a spectrum of charity leaders on what we can do to take action.