Guest writer Zoe Amar looks at some of the most coveted digital skills that will help charities post-lockdown, as the sector returns to another new normal
Think back to what life was like before the pandemic. It’s hard to imagine, right? But if I’d told you then that in 2021 charities would be meeting online, providing services and fundraising on digital at scale, would you have believed me?
None of this would have been possible without skills and the incredible innovation and resilience we have seen across the sector over the past year. As society reopens, we need to take a moment to reflect on what we have all learned during a time of huge challenge and which skills we will need as we rebuild for the future.
We’re tracking how digital skills have changed across the sector and what you think this means for where we go from here in the survey to build The Charity Digital Skills Report.
We would love to hear your views so that we can measure how charities’ use of digital has evolved during the pandemic, and where support is most needed as the sector plans its next moves. The deadline for responses is midnight on 1 June 2021.
While we await the results, I wanted to find out which digital skills charities and non-profits feel they will need as their path to the future becomes clearer. I’m also going to give you a sneak preview of some of our findings so far.
We’ve heard from 230+ charity professionals and we’re keen to hear if these stats strike a chord with you – or if you have a different view.
At the start of the pandemic, charities pivoted to Zoom, Slack, and Teams to maintain operations and keep delivering vital services. 65% of the charities who have taken the survey so far have been delivering all their work remotely.
After a year of remote working, sector experts say they are developing new, more strategic skills. Their aim is less about meeting short-term delivery needs and more about improving outcomes.
John Fitzgerald, Digital Evolution Manager at SCVO, is focused on the skills which will power asynchronous working. He thinks charities need to look at, “how to facilitate positive, open conversations in situations where we are no longer sharing a physical space”.
Fitzgerald thinks charities will need to get even better at clear internal communications but also at flexing their emotional intelligence muscles, such as how to read between the lines on team communications”.
The pandemic has shown that the centre of gravity for charities doesn’t need to be the office. Instead, energies have moved to online spaces. Serena Snoad, Online Community Professional at the Alzheimer’s Society, thinks charities need to invest in the skillset needed to scale this further.
She says that: “Internal online community management will become a vital skill to help to keep employees connected and build trust, and to help people to work out loud, collaborate and stay effective.”
Back-to-back Zoom meetings are not sustainable and Snoad thinks this will change, freeing up time for staff to get work done. “Organisations will need to make meetings much more effective,” Snoad advises. “We will see a shift to facilitated workshop-style meetings with more work taking place asynchronously before and after a meeting.”
With McKinsey predicting that digital adoption will continue to grow post-pandemic, charities will need all the facts at their fingertips to make quick decisions in a rapidly changing world.
Over half of the respondents to our survey (54%) so far say that they anticipate investing more in data skills and infrastructure (CRM, analytics, etc) as we emerge from the pandemic.
The Rainbow Trust are a great example of this. Their Head of Engagement, Claire Coussins, told me that she and her team plan to “enable Fundraisers to become more competent and self-sufficient in areas like analytics. And increase their curiosity as data will be easier to analyse and visualise”.
I hope that, post-pandemic, digital ways of working will diffuse through our charities. As the past year has shown, everyone has a stake in online skills.
Leaders will need the skills to define the digital ambition on the road to recovery. 48% of the charities we have spoken to would like their CEO or board to develop a “clear vision of what digital could help them achieve”.
At The Rainbow Trust, Coussins and colleagues will be deploying skills to test, learn, and improve on innovations because “the digital world moves faster than we possibly can”. Adaptability is key.
Coussins wants to focus on problem solving, “with ample knowledge and understanding to unpick technical challenges, and the grit and determination to find a solution”.
Inclusion is an urgent need across the sector. Leaders will need to advocate for how we can make our charities more accessible for staff, donors, and beneficiaries, and understand where digital can help. The biggest challenge for the charities we spoke to was inclusion: 51% are worried about excluding some people or groups from their services in relation to digital.
Continuous growth won’t be possible without continuous learning. Andy Smith, Director at Made by Mortals, a music theatre community interest company based in Greater Manchester, says that as his organisation enters the recovery phase, his directors are “making a real effort to ensure we continue to learn essential digital skills”.
Made by Mortals are working on social media skills, as well as live streaming and apps. Smith says they are also working on how to “continue our journey of utilising digital technology for connection and interaction with our communities”.
We must invest in volunteers’ digital skills too. Lara Pace, Head of Capacity Building Practice at Protection Group International, is concerned that this group may lack cybersecurity skills. She thinks that volunteers require “robust induction processes so that they can receive basic awareness learning, both on the threat to organisational infrastructure but also the ‘softer’ threat of distribution of information and its exploitation by organised crime”.
The road to recovery may be bumpy and all we know for certain about the future is that digital will be a big part of it. If we’re going to futureproof our organisations we need to start with skills.
Share your thoughts on how your charity is using digital here