The Charity Digital Skills Report 2022: A Review
The Charity Digital Skills Report 2022 has recently been published, revealing some interesting findings about how charities’ use of digital has changed.
Here, we look at the key findings and learn more about the barriers to digital progress that charities face.
The Charity Digital Skills Report was first published in 2017 and is a compilation of detailed survey results which gathers data from 435 charity professionals working in small, medium and large charities in the UK about ‘digital skills, attitudes and support needs across the sector’.
The authors of the report, Zoe Amar and Nissa Ramsay, are charity sector digital experts and provide digital and technological advocacy services for charities. Their report aims to provide insight into how charities are evolving digitally, what the drivers of success and the barriers to progress are, and how the sector can evolve to maximise its effectiveness after a period of great need and substantial change.
After the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic when charities adapted to new ways of working and responding to users’ needs, this year’s report looks ahead to discover what they need to do in the future.
Let’s look at the key findings of the report.
The response to COVID-19
The upheaval the pandemic wrought upon us as a society has changed the charity sector, with 82% of charities seeing digital as a greater priority now than previously.
During lockdown, many charities offered hybrid services, providing delivery both online and in person, but this number has reduced to 55% from 71% as a result of more face-to-face contact after lockdown ended.
However, the demand for charities’ digital service remains high, with almost 50% of charities seeing demand for their digital services increase during the last 12 months.
Charities adapted quickly to the demands of COVID-19, with many adopting remote working practices. The survey found that over half of them are now exploring how to continue to improve remote working options, and 35% putting the wellbeing of their staff as a priority in this area, which has doubled since 2021.
It’s good to know that two thirds of organisations offer their staff hybrid working arrangements, but with only half of charities rating themselves as ‘excellent’ for using digital for remote working and communications, more needs to be done to allow flexible and hybrid working to continue effectively.
The survey found that over half (56%) of charities now have a defined digital strategy. Surprisingly, this figure represents a 4% drop from 2021, but is still up 7% on 2020’s numbers.
40% of charities rate creating a digital strategy, or integrating digital into their organisational strategy, as important - and 72% are demonstrating positive digital ambitions by working towards digital progression through tools, skills, infrastructure and service delivery. The size of the charity impacts its ambitions in this area, with smaller charities seeing digital as a lesser priority than larger ones (30% compared to 48% respectively).
68% of all charities, regardless of size, say that their number one priority is improving their website and social media presence.
Not surprisingly, almost three-quarters of charities found that their digital grant funding was insufficient this year, with one-third of them saying that their needs have increased substantially, and almost half saying that they have been unable to gain access to grant funding, highlighting ‘significant’ unmet needs.
The major issues facing charities applying for funding include uncertainty as to whether ongoing digital costs (such as software and licences) can be included, ambiguity about costs going forward, and the inability to include core digital costs in a final budget.
Over half of charities suggested that they would welcome the ability to apply for funding for internal digital projects, IT and infrastructure upgrades but almost all (95%) said that what would be most helpful would be the ability to include core digital costs in funding applications.
Looking ahead, over one-third of charities (38%) said that they would welcome more financial support to build a solid digital foundation, which would enable them to move forward with their digital approach.
Recruitment and retention
Charities are not standing still with their recruitment and retention activities, with over half of them recruiting for digital roles over the last 12 months.
However, good quality candidates are in short supply, and half of those who are actively recruiting said that they struggled to fill vacancies. Matching private sector salaries is a major challenge, and 16% say they are using freelancers or agencies to fill roles.
Interestingly, offering hybrid working arrangements has become more popular in larger charities (76%) compared to smaller ones (54%).
In terms of candidates, the picture is more positive, with 88% of respondents saying that it’s important or very important to them to work for organisations that are taking positive steps to develop their employees’ digital skills.
Tools, products and services
One-third of charities say that tech issues, such as improving GDPR and data security compliance, are vital to them and attach more importance to them than last year.
Over half want to revise their websites and 42% want to review their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. 35% say that their funding database needs upgrading, and 42% think their online data collection tools, website analytics (44%), and data visualisation software (25%) all need attention.
Online collaboration tools such as Zoom, Facebook and Slack, which became popular during the pandemic, continue to be used, with 73% of charities still delivering some services via these tools.
However, few are developing their own digital products, tools and services – only a third of large charities and only 14% of smaller ones. Within these figures we see that over half are not sharing their solutions, 45% are not collaborating with others, and 22% are not openly sharing their learnings.
Accessibility and ED&I
While charities are making inroads into accessibility, more support is needed, they say, with only just over half claiming that they are fair, and 22% admitting they handle it poorly. Only 67% think their digital tools and services meet the needs of different kinds of accessibility.
Insights into ED&I and digital progression are at an early stage in this report, with little data to go on. However, the report notes that 64% of charities representing communities that have historically experienced structural racial inequality commonly have an annual income of less than £100,000, making them ‘small’ charities. The authors hope to offer more insight into whether this correlates with the stage of their digital progression (60% are at an early stage with digital transformation) in next year’s report.
What barriers do charities face over the next 12 months?
The report found that there were several major barriers to digital transformation that charities face, specifically:
Recruitment – with resources squeezed tighter, charities not only face demands to find funding for devices, software and infrastructure but also, and perhaps more importantly, they struggle to find the right talent to enable them to prosper digitally. Finding value-driven people who have the experience and skills is becoming increasingly difficult. Charities also lack the time to source the right people for the important roles they need filling.
Training – 38% of charities say that training and upskilling both their staff and volunteers is a high priority for them. However, recruiting staff who already possess the digital skills they need is also vital.
Digital adoption – 30% of charities say that they invest in digital and IT on an ad-hoc basis without planning. This lack of foresight may be due to an absence of digital guidance, with 18% of charities saying that they don’t have either an IT provider or a source of advice.
Cultural motivation – many charities face problems with digital transformation because they are not culturally motivated to be more digitally-focused. This may be due to a lack of digital maturity cohesion within the organisation, or it may be a reluctance to get to grips with an essential part of twenty-first-century commercial realism. What’s clear is that some organisations need to actually see proof of the positive impact of digital transformation in order for them to make it a priority.
Future-proofing – in some organisations there is a reluctance or an inability to digitally future-proof themselves. This has far-reaching repercussions when they attempt to attract talent who, recognising its importance, are quite naturally hesitant to commit themselves to organisations who will not make the most of their skills.
Clearly it’s been a challenging couple of years for the charity sector, however, many have risen to the challenge and have gone above and beyond to continue to provide the services their users need. What’s also clear is that the amount of money they have to provide those services is in decline – most of the barriers that charities face stem from a lack of funds. What the next twelve months will bring in terms of overcoming these barriers, now that we are faced with a period of diminishing resources within both the public and private sectors, remains to be seen.
You can read the entire Charity and Digital Skills Report here.
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