Charities can ‘no longer afford to be digitally defiant’

Dr Simon Davey from Cass CCE shares tips and advice on creating a digital strategy

Austin Clark | 6th Feb 18

Dr Simon Davey, consultant at Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness (Cass CCE), says charities can’t afford to be digitally defiant.

The warning comes after Tech Trust’s Digital Charity Survey 2018 revealed that over half of charities (58%) don’t have a digital strategy, with just over a third saying that the lack of money is the biggest barrier. Other barriers cited were the lack of time (32.71%), lack of understanding (15.94%) and no perceived benefit (9.40%).

Dr Davey says: “Charities without a digital strategy risk being left behind when it comes to raising awareness of their organisation, communicating with potential donors and stakeholders and interacting with beneficiaries.”

Research from Ofcom suggests that over three-quarters of internet users (76%) have a social media profile. It also found that the over 65s are increasingly embracing smart and social technology, plus there has been a significant increase in the number of internet users aged 75 and over embracing social media.

Dr Davey adds, “While a few years ago some charities may have thought it was just younger people that were prolific users of digital technology, many more people use now use technology in their daily lives. Soon we will have generations that have never lived without smart phones or access to Facebook and Twitter.

“Charities can no longer hope they will survive doing things the way they have always done. Technology is at the heart of business and charity communications and interactions and charities need to invest time and money in developing a digital strategy to future-proof their organisation.”

 

Digital journey advice

Dr Davey says digital doesn’t have to be difficult, but to be successful (and to get funded) those tasked with putting together a digital strategy should take some time to really think things through. He offers the following advice for charities at the start of their digital journey:

Start with why. What’s the point really? Why do you want to do this? Efficiency, growth, innovation? What will make that happen? A new website for educating an audience about your subject area or better direct interaction, a database for managing engagement and relationships and tracking outcomes or equipment and tools to make you more productive? Be very clear about the goal and reasons for doing it.

Know what you need. Start from the user perspective – talk to them about what they need and want, create user journeys (how people act and interact), imagine what could be (not just what is and always has been).

Digital offers great potential but best to change your processes first than fit shiny new tyres to a clapped out old car. Choose your technology and suppliers carefully – cultural fit matters but don’t exchange competence for ‘nice to work with’.

Make a plan. Technology can be unforgiving (and expensive to reverse), you can trial and test it but that’s not an excuse for making it up as you go along. Have a destination, staging points and outline timetable, a means to evaluate success or failure and a group of people to assess whether it has worked.

Appreciate change. Be aware of the ‘Change Curve’ and its implications. However well you prepare and plan, you need to take people through the phases, through the disbelief, the frustration of the new, the bit when things can’t get worse, the experimentation when they get better and finally acceptance and commitment. Lead the change and ride the curve. Use your plan to help show where you should be.

Drive through better. Your ‘why’ and ‘plan’ define the map. Keep your destination clear and focused, know what success looks like and keep going. Make sure someone is driving the project and can get it to its conclusion. Mind-set and attitude matter – don’t give up, this won’t be easy. Never let anyone say, “I don’t understand technology” without doing something about it.

Make sustainability a forethought not an afterthought. How will you sustain your (funder’s) investment? Commit time, money (where necessary), headspace – think this through. Many great projects fail because of a lack of sustainability. Don’t start what you can’t finish – the ‘end’ of a digital project is two or three years after you’ve started to use it. Projects need time to mature.

Don’t try and do it alone. Find buddies (they might be other CEOs and managers, consultants, similar minded people in your own organisation, even ‘techies’ – paid or volunteers). Plan for help and support and take it.