Small Charities Coalition ‘misunderstands the digital needs of small charities’

Charity Checkout founder suggests the sector needs to accept that the evidence tells us that smaller charities still have a lot to gain by adopting the most basic digital tools

Austin Clark | 19th Dec 17

Earlier this year, the House of Lords published its Stronger charities for a stronger society report, in which it recommended that all but the smallest charities should have a simple website or social media page, and should be actively seeking digital skills for their board.

This advice came following evidence given to the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities by Chester Mojay-Sinclare, the founder of Charity Checkout. However, it was recently criticised for being ‘out of date’ by the Chief Executive of the Small Charities Coalition, despite the Lloyds Bank UK Digital Business Index research showing that just 57% of charities have a website, only 45% are using social media and 52% of small charities lack basic digital skills.

During a speech at the Navca annual conference, the Chief Executive of the Small Charities Coalition argued: “What they are advising small charities to do is to get a website and get on social media, but that’s what we should have been advising small charities to do 10 years ago. Digital is about embracing solutions to challenges we are facing. So it absolutely starts with identifying those problems. It is about thinking about the challenges that we are facing collectively through digital technology.”

Chester points out that charities using social media are 51% more likely to increase their donations, according to the same research. He argues that digital should be about solving challenges, but many sector leaders ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ and are so concerned about creating digital solutions, that they are overlooking the ones that already exist.

In the case of smaller charities, he argues that this means adopting basic digital tools, such as social media: “It is easy to criticise digital advice that appears simplistic as being outdated, but we need to accept that the evidence tells us that smaller charities still have a lot to gain by adopting the most basic digital tools, such as websites, social media and online payments.

“The fact is that for the most part, the solutions have existed for over a decade now, but many small charities are still not using them. This is due to a lack of digital skills and knowledge within smaller charities.”

Chester says having himself spent almost 10 years working with small charities around online fundraising, he’s become frustrated with the lack of general digital awareness. During his evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities, he said: “I would like to see that every new charity has a technology trustee or a digital trustee, much in the same way that the majority of them have a treasurer… That would do several things. It would bring a focus to digital. It would create a role to which younger people would be drawn, and younger people would lean towards trusteeship more. That could be quite a simple way of attracting more of these skills…”

“We have seen examples of charities increasing their overall giving from donors by up to 600% purely through adopting digital fundraising methods… Digital can play a huge part in helping charities to not only be more sustainable and raise more income from their local communities, but also in service delivery.”

He argues that this would help solve the digital skills issue, which he feels is compounded by a lack of diversity among trustee boards, with the average age of a trustee being 57 years old.

He also goes on to argue that his advice to the Lords was intended to encourage small charities that are not digitally savvy to take their first steps along the road of digital transformation, writing:

“As with any new skill, it’s a good idea to learn the basics first. In regards to digital, I see learning how to update your website or run a social media page as critical steps to becoming more digitally advanced. In the end, digital is about solving the world’s biggest challenges and problems with more efficient and innovative solutions – but we should look for solutions that already exist before we try to reinvent the wheel.”

He concludes by saying that there is good cause to remain optimistic, as research shows that 20% of charities are currently on the ‘cusp’ of having full Basic Digital Skills, making it fundamental that charities adopt the simple advice given by the Lords if this good progress is to continue.