Five essential skills for every charity digital role (Guest post)

Zoe Amar takes a look at the skills charity digital professionals need to develop in order to get ahead

| 27th Jan 17

Zoe Amar takes a look at the skills charity digital professionals need to develop in order to get ahead

This week the government announced that it will invest in digital skills, ploughing £170 million into new ‘Institutes of Technology’ and introducing STEM and digital skills education for everyone. It’s part of the government’s Industrial Strategy for a post-Brexit Britain. As a sector, shouldn’t we also be looking at the digital skills we need to shape our future?

That’s why my agency is working with Skills Platform to launch the Charity Digital Skills Report , mapping digital skills across the UK charity sector. We’d love to hear from as many charities as possible, and will share the results to help charities understand where the skills gaps are and how they can close them. We hope this will get everyone talking about the digital skills that everyone in our sector needs, and how charities can be supported in developing them.

Digital roles have been around for years but compared to, say, finance, it’s still a relatively new discipline. I’ve worked with many bright and experienced charity leadership teams who struggle to define what they are looking for when recruiting for digital roles, especially for senior positions. Part of this is compounded by the way in which digital roles are evolving rapidly. A few years ago, digital often sat within communications, but is now a discipline in its own right, opening up further career possibilities. Looking at the corporate world, McKinsey believe that the Chief Digital Officers of today could be the CEOs of tomorrow. This makes perfect sense given that digital and organisational strategies are merging.

That said, there is no formal career path or set qualification for charity digital professionals. So what skills should they learn to get ahead?

  • Data analysis. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of marketers think data analysis is the most important skill for their organisation to gain over the next two years. Analytics can seem intimidating especially if maths wasn’t your favourite subject in school. What unlocked it for me was realising that analytics were a fascinating insight into how audiences make decisions, and what is important to them. For beginners, Google have a handy free course on getting started with web analytics.
  • Know your audience. Digital should never just be about digital- it’s about understanding the journeys that your audience makes across on and offline channels. These are very powerful insights to bring to the table, and I’d argue that they are essential, otherwise your digital marketing plan is guesswork. This doesn’t need to be expensive. Here’s a useful overview of user journeys.
  • Following on from data, your charity may well need guidance on what good looks like on digital. Whether that involves traffic to your website, acquiring more donors online, or increased brand awareness, digital teams can add value by showing how their work makes a difference. Linking these benefits to organisational goals is essential.
  • We’ve been undertaking a lot of digital audits lately and content in the charity sector- and other areas- has gone up a gear. The internet is awash with content and audiences have high expectations of not only what you say but how it’s presented. My take on content? Too many charities are still sharing transactional content which meets internal needs (e.g. campaign announcements and corporate partnership thank yous). As this case study from Anthony Nolan indicates, I predict that the charities who will win big from content this year will be those who lead with a storytelling approach. Narrative is the glue which makes content stick in people’s minds.
  • Horizon scanning. Most digital teams I’ve worked with are time poor and stretched. They’re often bogged down in delivering, whether that’s creating content, managing platforms or fixing technical issues. It’s hard to find the space for thinking and creativity but I would urge you to make the time, even if it’s half an hour on a Friday afternoon, to read up on trends. By keeping ahead of what’s new in their market digital teams can position themselves as a brilliant resource to help their charities.

What are your views on what digital skills your charity needs? Share them in just 5-10 minutes by taking the Charity Digital Skills Survey. The results will be published in March.


Zoe Amar is widely regarded as one of the charity sector’s leading experts in digital communications and marketing. She founded digital agency Zoe Amar Communications in 2013. Their clients have included Breast Cancer Care, The Commonwealth War Graves Commission and The School for Social Entrepreneurs. Zoe writes for The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network about charities and digital issues. She co-founded the Social CEOs awards and co-authored The Charity Commission’s digital guidance for trustees, ‘Making Digital Work.’ Zoe also wrote The Charity Social Media Toolkit with Skills Platform. Zoe is a trustee for The Foundation for Training and Education in Care and sits on the Board Audit and Risk Sub-Committee at the Samaritans as their digital expert. She tweets @zoeamar

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