Digital should be at the heart of strategy - but around half of charities are overlooking this chance to ramp up their digital capabilities
A robust strategy is an essential part of a charity’s organisation. A strategy sets out your mission, aspirations and how you intend to improve.
This provides a useful guide for everyone in the organisation to follow, from the CEO and trustees to volunteers. A strategy also gives supporters assurances that their donations are being well spent – creating a system of accountability.
But digital is not always part of charity strategy and is being overlooked by around half of charities in their top-level strategic decision-making.
With charities increasingly pivoting their organisation, services and fundraising online, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, now is the perfect time to look again at strategy and ensure digital is a focus throughout.
Here we will look at why charities should emphasise the ‘digital’ in their strategy and why this will benefit them in the long-term. We consider how charities can adopt a digital mindset at the top level of their organisation, and offer key tips to make digital the vital ingredient in charity.
The 2020 Charity Digital Skills Report laid bare a striking lack of strategic thinking in terms of digital. It found that 51% of charities do not have a strategy for digital, either within their wider strategy or a standalone document looking at digital capabilities.
This is similar to 2019’s proportion, when 52% did not have digital at the heart of their strategy. Not only is digital not being embraced by many charities, but the message of the value of digital is sadly still not filtering through.
But there is evidence that many charities are keen to emphasis digital in their strategy - with four out of ten charities wanting to develop a strategy that ensures digital is at the centre of their organisation.
Cost is a barrier though, particularly amidst the current health crisis. Just 6% of charities say they have the funding necessary for digital strategy work.
A key benefit to focusing on digital within a strategy is to ensure charities are resilient and can protect their future amid COVID-19.
This wide range of work can only be achieved effectively by having top-level buy-in that is clearly laid out in charities’ wider strategy. This will enable charities to efficiently plan and buy software and technology support, as well as to measure the digital capabilities and skills of staff and volunteers. Perhaps outside help is needed to improve in-house resources?
Another key reason for a digital-centric strategy is compliance with data regulations, as charities need to have a clear plan in place to ensure data is protected.
A good example of a charity putting digital is at the heart of strategy is St John’s Ambulance. In August it announced strategic plans to reduce its estate, with the closure of around a third of its 352 buildings, to save money amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although focused on physical buildings, digital is still at the heart of this fresh strategy for the charity for 2020. This includes using technology to ensure its staff can work remotely. The strategy is also driven by the need to be innovative in order to continue supporting its beneficiaries and stakeholders.
“As part of this process, I will be exploring, with St John’s people, how we evolve to still meet and serve communities Chief Executive Martin Houghton-Brown.
Whether that’s using technology to better connect with people or finding partners in the community who would welcome St John, we will find new ways to continue our life saving work now, and for many years to come.”
- Martin Houghton-Brown – CEO, St. John’s Ambulance
There is an array of resources, tools and organisations available to help charities digitize their strategy.
Among these is Digital Leaders, an organisation which offers workshops, webinars, networking and resources to promote effective digital strategy.
Its resources include guidance on digital transformation from Alan W. Brown, Professor in Digital Economy at the University of Exeter Business School and Fellow of the Alan Turing Institute.
This outlines the importance of strategy and tips for leaders on how they can emphasis digital across their organisation.
“Great ideas need to be enacted through a strategy aligned to meeting market needs.
Successful organisations must establish a working environment that attracts the best talent, engages them effectively, grows their capabilities, and retains their services in a highly competitive marketplace for digital skills.”
- Alan W. Brown
Another useful organisation is the Charity Commission, which has guidance aimed at trustees on putting digital at the heart of strategy. This poses questions to charities such as “how could our charity use digital to put ourselves in the best position for any uncertain or challenging times ahead”.
With economic uncertainty amid the COVID-19 pandemic the benefits of emphasising digital in strategy are clear.